The Spinal Column: Barometric pressure really does make you feel pain

spinal column graphic
spinal column graphic

I can not remember the last sunny day! This entire week has been cloudy and wet. Day after day. That is a lot of barometric pressure.

In my office I routinely hear patients telling me how they hate rainy days because somehow all their aches and pains are magnified. Obviously, those complaints have been magnified these past few weeks as well.

When patients start talking about their old football injury that “really acts up” when it rains, or how it is especially hard to get out of bed with such an aching back on rainy days these statements are music to my ears. It is my opportunity to explain the long-term effects of not taking care of your body.

And I have been explaining a lot lately.


The truth is, not all Phoenixvillians come to my office to hear my explanations, so I thought I’d take an opportunity to let everyone know. It’s not all in your head. Barometric pressure really does make you feel pain!

Here is how it works.

Our joints are made up primarily of

Tendons which connect your muscles to your bones

Ligaments which are strong, flexible fibers that hold bones together

Cartilage which covers the ends of bones allowing for smooth, gliding movement

Synovial fluid which is responsible for nourishing the cartilage and keeping it slippery.

The synovium also has a tough outer layer (the joint capsule) which protects and supports the joint.

The picture on the right is not a spinal joint but is a good visual as to how all joints are layered. It will still help you have a better image as I describe how all joints function, including all the joints of your spine.

When our joints are lined up correctly they “glide.” Cartilage allows for frictionless movement, making sure there is no wear and tear on the joint.

When our joints shift out of place, you no longer have a frictionless glide. You can tell just by the sound of that, that this is not a good thing, right? Stay tuned because it gets worse.

Your body will not like this friction. So it starts to create and lay down fibrotic tissue. Fibrotic tissue is similar to, say, the calluses you may have build up on the bottom of your feet over the summer. All winter your feet where cozy and protected inside your Uggs so they were soft and smooth. Summer rolls around and you start going barefoot as much as you can. That is much rougher on the feet. Your smooth, soft feet need to toughen up so they start to build up callous. Fibrotic tissue works the same way, but this is inside your body. Your body lays down the fibrotic tissue to try to add protection against the friction in your joint. Unfortunately the fibrotic tissue will continue to build up, build up, build up, until it starts to actually break down the cartilage.

Cartilage, if you remember, covers the ends of bones allowing for smooth, gliding movement. So now not only do we have this scar tissue building up, we also are losing the natural protection around our bones. It is being worn out. Not good, right? Stay tuned, it gets worse.

During this time, calcium is pulled from the bone to create “bone spurs.” Bone spurs are additional, abnormal, bony growths at the end of your bones. So now bone spurs start to form on top of the fibrotic tissue! Not good, right?

There is yet another destructive step in this process:the squeezing out of synovial fluid! Synovial fluid is responsible for nourishing the cartilage and keeping it slippery. Just like we eat healthy food to nourish our body to keep it healthy. The synovial fluid nourishes the joint to keep it healthy and slippery.

With all this additional growth of fibrotic tissue and bones spurs there is less room for the synovial fluid. There is just not enough room so we get less and less nutrition and lubrication.

I don’t know about you, but I am feeling the pain that this would create.

At this point on an x-ray you would be diagnosed with Osteoarthritis. It is now that the joint has broken down and we say you have Osteoarthritis also known as Degenerative Joint Disease. It is most common is knees, hips,shoulders and your spine.

I told you it wasn’t good!

Now, back to this wonderful barometric pressure we have been having and those old, untreated injuries that “flare up.”

Barometric pressure is truly a pressure that surround us. It’s not just a term that Cecily Tynan throws around on AccuWeather. It is real pressure that surrounds us when the weather turns wet. Your whole body is experiencing the pressure. But you really feel it in those areas that are the least healthy. The ones that are “broken down” because the pressure makes it very difficult to move or glide bones in a space that is already filled with scar tissue, extra bony bumps and no shock absorbers or fluid. The joints are just really compressed and painful.

The good news?

Osteoarthritis is 1. preventable and 2. often reversible.

As a chiropractor what I do is realign bones. The bones that have shifted to cause this entire to process to begin, simply need to be returned to their correct position. That is what I do everyday. I have seen patients get well time and time again. By get well I mean turn the process around and allow the joint to rebuild itself, back to the cushy, sliding machine it was designed to be!

See you next week.

Until then...enjoy the weather!

Dr. Jim

Dr. Jim Schaffer of Kimberton Chiropractic, Phoenixville, is a weekly contributor to The Phoenix. 484-921-4936