Baseball Theory: Can Focusing on Barometric Pressure Changes Assist in Reducing Injuries?

Three new lines spread across my wrist, discovering red.

I stare into the night sky, emotions running high.

“Fuck this life,” I say out loud to no one, and sigh.

I stare at everything around me.

Everyone and everything I love.

It’s all crashing down.

My wife is puking a red liquid on the floor inside.

One of my cats deciding he’s just going to be an outdoor cat now, and if I deny him this choice, he will burn this fucking house to the ground.

I look at the door and see our new kitten and that oldest cat sitting side by side, staring at me.

My arm bleeding in the night as I sigh and look up into the abyss.

I look back down and survey the damage. Three, maybe four distinct lines. Missed on one of them. But, shit, one of them landed good, and there’s a nick right on a vein.

“Why did it have to be this week?” I ask myself as I drift away.

*****

Ansley laid in bed, her head pounding. It was late at night, and she was trying to get to sleep, hoping that she could rest and wake up to zero pain in the morning.

That’s typically the solution for most people with migraines. They reach a point where they get so bad that you just need to shut your body down.

This time, Ansley’s body wasn’t shutting down.

She got up, walked to the office across the hall, grabbed a cold can of Coke from the fridge, and cracked it open. Caffeine is counter-productive to going to sleep, but there’s something about it which can relieve the pain of a headache.

It wasn’t working on this night.

She walked down the stairs, trying to find her husband.

He was sitting on the front porch, listening to music on his headphones and smoking a bowl of some indica strain. She tapped on the window, then running out of strength, walked back upstairs and went to bed.

I heard the tap, saw Ansley moving inside, and went in to check on her. When I got inside, I noticed she had disappeared. Was I imagining things? This stuff kicked in way sooner than I expected.

I walk up the stairs to find her back in bed, lying in pain.

She tells me about her headache, and how it won’t go away. She lists all of the things she’s done, including laying in a hot shower, which left her over-heated.

I suggest that she drink some fluids, and go grab her a red Gatorade. She comes downstairs, sits in a chair by the window, and starts to drink, while battling back her migraine.

I’m still fighting my own migraine.

It’s June 9th, 2020.

The MLB Draft is tomorrow, and with no news to report in this pandemic ridden world, I need to be at 100% to make sure the site is functioning for the biggest event of the year. I’m trying to prevent a multi-day migraine, which is all too common in my life.

Ansley is struggling. She hasn’t had the years of experience of dealing with migraines that I’ve had, and she has to worry about drug tests at her job, so she can’t partake in my miracle cure.

Why were we both getting hit so hard by a migraine on the same night?

*****

The sign at the top of the urinals in the locker rooms at Pirate City show a color chart, ranging from brown to dark yellow to pale yellow to clear.

There’s a line on the chart. If your urine is darker than that shade of pale yellow, it shows that you’re dehydrated.

“You need to drink more water!” is the warning the sign is telling you.

A few feet from the door of the bathroom is the clubhouse. On this day, Austin Meadows is walking around with a gallon jug of water in his hand.

It’s Spring Training 2017.

Meadows has been walking around camp with that gallon of water glued to his hand. Sean McCool wrote about it that spring, with Meadows saying that his goal is to drink one-and-a-half gallons of water per day.

“I crush it,” Meadows told McCool about the water. “With my history of injuries, usually related to hydration, I just have to stay on top of it now. That’s my goal for this season.”

Throughout his career, Meadows has been ravaged by injuries. He’s been sidelined with multiple hamstring injuries, and multiple oblique injuries, including an oblique injury that shortened his 2020 season.

“You never want to be dehydrated,” Meadows said back in 2017. “I sweat a ton. I’m just trying to focus on crushing that [water jug] everyday. I got to clean it every now and then, but I’m doing good so far with my goal. I’ll hopefully keep it up for the rest of the year.”

Sean went on to detail the following in the article about the impacts of hydration, and what Meadows was working on:

According to the University of Connecticut Musculoskeletal Institute, “a loss of only two percent body weight through sweating has been documented to adversely effect sports performance”. Their studies also show that dehydration can be the cause of fatigue and injury concerns.

Meadows’ hope is that a slight change in his ability to remain hydrated through the season will directly correlate to a healthy, strong season of baseball. But not just his new water companion to thank, Meadows incorporated some new routines into his offseason regimen. On top of weight lifting four times a week, he did yoga at a tiny studio back home twice a week after picking it up in Bradenton during rehab last fall.

Meadows didn’t stay healthy that year. I’m not sure how long he stuck with the gallon of water approach, so I can’t say if it worked or didn’t work.

I’ve covered so many players who have dealt with recurring injuries, especially hamstring injuries. I bring Meadows up because he’s the only player I can recall who specifically and vocally targeted hydration, and how often he sweats, as a potential reason for his recurring injuries.

*****

Sweat.

I sweat all the time.

I sweat while eating ice cream sitting on the couch in an air conditioned room during the winter time.

On this night, I’m laying on the floor of my guest bathroom, and a literal pool of sweat has formed under my body.

It’s early in July 2019.

Ansley and I had just moved to our new house south of Raleigh, NC. We spent the day killing ourselves getting things unpacked and organized into some sort of livable fashion. The goal was to be able to sleep in our own bed, and take showers.

I was dealing with a migraine, which is par for the course on most days. I also pushed myself with the move, after pushing myself for most of the last week with the move. My muscles were weak, and my head felt a stabbing pain.

By the end of the night, my migraine had gotten to the point of no return. I was throwing up in the guest bathroom.

The sumatriptan that I take to help get rid of these migraines was lost in a box somewhere. My supply of greenery was probably in the same box.

Eventually, I’m laying in a pool of sweat, my body convulsing as I try to vomit again, and nothing but bile coming out.

I find enough strength to make it to our bathroom and turn on the shower. I collapse into the shower stall, underneath the hot water, and position my head so that the waterfall comes crashing down on my skull.

Ansley has seen me go through some bad headaches, but this is by far the worst. She’s on the phone with my brother, who is a doctor. He asks if I need to go to the hospital. I have no health insurance yet, and can’t financially afford a trip to a doctor for them to give no answers, so I’m going the “maybe this shower and a glass of water will help” route.

I don’t remember much about that shower. I passed out at one point, finally getting some relief from the pain. Ansley found the box with medicine, and I took some Advil and a sumatriptan, then passed out again. I might as well have been dead at one point, because I didn’t know how much time had passed, and didn’t have any recollection of where I was. I just occasionally woke up on the floor of the shower, the pain slowly fading, but never fully gone.

It wasn’t long after this night that I started a new routine. I did an hour of yoga in the garage each night, with my primary initial focus being laying flat on my back until I felt comfortable and pain free. For someone who sits in front of a laptop most of the day, posture is never my strength. Focusing an hour each day on my posture definitely helps.

When I get migraines, they extend from my temples, down the side of my neck, down the middle of my back next to my spine in between my shoulder blades. If you pressed hard enough on that spot in my back, it would shoot a stabbing signal all the way up to the side of my head.

I went to physical therapy for this for a year, and asked what was leading to the pain in that specific spot. The answer: So many muscles converge at that area, that it could be anything.

Great.

While doing yoga, I focused on micro-stretches. I’d lay flat on my back, then slowly move parts of my body from the core-out until I could feel resistance. During this time I noticed a few things.

Number one: My rib cage on the side of my back was always sore. That seemed to be the source of the pain that went up my back and to my head.

Number two: I always have tight hamstrings, but the more I stretched the back of my leg right below my butt cheek, the more my lower back loosened up.

I eventually found a way to be flexible enough to the point where if I was in pain, I knew exactly the spot on my body that was creating the pain, and could stretch it out.

I went from over 300 pounds to 232 pounds in the span of a year, largely just doing yoga. But I still kept getting migraines.

I remembered that article about Austin Meadows, which inspired the yoga, and inspired me to focus on hydration. This eliminated about 75% of my migraines, and made it where I wouldn’t have multi-day migraines as often.

Unfortunately, there were some days where I couldn’t stay hydrated, no matter how hard I tried.

*****

The day before the 2020 MLB draft.

Ansley is starting to cry from the pain. She announces that she might throw up.

I try to escort her to the bathroom, but it’s too late.

Red Gatorade all over the carpet.

I help Ansley to the bathroom and start grabbing more things to help her migraine.

We’ve been at the house for about a year. One thing we’ve added is a garden in the back yard, with plenty of mint that helps me during my worst migraines. I open the door to grab some, and immediately my oldest cat bolts out the door.

He starts running to the fence. He’s been dealing with arthritis in his legs. Most days he’s active and fine. But some days he’s in clear pain, and tries to escape and run away. Over time I notice that this always comes the day before a storm hits. He tried to escape three times, and a massive storm hit on each of those nights. He now gets pain medicine on those days, which eliminates the escape attempts.

I grab him and bring him back to the house. He immediately freaks out when we reach the door, digs his back claws into my wrist, and slashes away as he launches himself out of my arms and into the night.

I chase him down again, get him inside this time, close the door, and stand there alone in the night.

I inspect my wrist.

He got me three times. Nope, four. And that one is bleeding.

My wife is inside with the worst headache she’s ever experienced.

My arthritic cat is trying to escape and run off to presumably die, even though that asshole still has enough strength to overpower me and grate the flesh off of my arms with his claws.

I’m about to go clean up Gatorade vom inside, bandage my arm up, and maybe get back to dealing with my own migraine pain.

“Why did it have to be this week?” I think to myself.

In the distance of the night, thunder starts to rumble.

That night, a massive storm hit.

And I potentially had my answer.

*****

I’ve had years of experience with weather-related migraines. I’ve never known why they happen.

I’ve never met a doctor who had any clue as to why this happens. The best they can do is offer me drugs to deal with the pain, charge me my co-pay, and refer me to a specialist who has no answers but a more expensive co-pay.

Even after focusing on yoga, losing a lot of weight, and focusing on trying to stay hydrated, I still couldn’t eliminate these weather-related migraines.

They only got worse after I moved to North Carolina, where summer storms come in from three different areas of the country in an almost daily fashion.

That has led to an interesting trend: I get a migraine about 36-48 hours before a storm hits.

It’s very common to how people with arthritis can feel pain in their joints leading up to a storm.

As a storm approaches, the barometric pressure changes. This summary from Facial Pain Association describes the impact to your body.

That means that the pressure against your body drops as well, and your joints and areas that are injured can begin to swell. This swelling causes increased inflammation, and we require hormones to deal with this increased activity in our bodies. Increased use of these hormones can cause depletion of them, too. Our body is not a bottomless pit when it comes to its defense systems.

The Arthritis Foundation also focuses on the impact of changes in barometric pressure on the body:

Changes in barometric pressure can cause expansion and contraction of tendons, muscles, bones and scar tissues, resulting in pain in the tissues that are affected by arthritis. Low temperatures may also increase the thickness of joint fluids, making them stiffer and perhaps more sensitive to pain during movement.

The biggest trends I’ve noticed in both myself and my wife regarding migraines:

**We both crave caffeine before a storm. My wife will crave chocolate. I’ll need a can of Coke. Neither of us knows why we want these, but we’ve gotten to the point where it’s a warning signal. We don’t crave them daily, only when there’s a pressure change.

**The muscle that bothers me the most during a storm is that muscle on the side of my rib cage on my back. I’m guessing this has to do with being hunched over a computer all day, which puts a constant strain on that muscle. I’m hunched over every day, but the pain only bothers me on some days.

**I start to get a migraine 36-48 hours away from a storm. My wife isn’t as sensitive, and starts feeling it about 12 hours ahead of a storm, if she does at all. It’s uncanny, to the point where I’ll know a storm is coming by the reaction my body gives, rather than just looking up a weather report, and I can warn her that she might be at risk.

**I sweat a lot more leading up to the storms. At some point I read an article about how your muscles get rid of moisture when they’re contracting due to barometric pressure, and this could be related.

**The pain is reduced or eliminated if I recognize the trends early and take preventative measures. This means drinking way more fluids than on a normal day, stretching more often, and decreasing my activity, rather than using caffeine to fight through the fatigue.

Another interesting paragraph from that FPA article linked above:

People who are chronically stressed either physically or emotionally may experience weather changes more acutely. … Because of our dependency on caffeine, we drink another cup of coffee, eat chocolate or sip tea in order to suppress fatigue that signals a drop in pressure, but don’t understand why our knees hurt more. There’s only so much cortisone produced daily unless we take medicines or drugs that “pump up” this steroid. Unfortunately, doing that on a chronic basis can kill you. Think about the athletes who have died of chronic steroid use after their heart gives out.

I’ve definitely felt at times like I’m slowly killing myself by trying to fight through fatigue. I soared to over 300 pounds largely by eating unhealthy food in response to constant migraines. I put myself under a lot of emotional stress by writing constantly, and never really shutting off my brain.

Athletes put themselves under more physical stress by being far more active than the average person. They probably have some emotional stress going, especially in the game of baseball where there are so many trends to follow during a game.

And we all know that some of them have turned to steroids, even if we don’t really know how steroids help a baseball player.

My theory, based on years of trying to fight weather related migraines: We could reduce a lot of injuries in sports if we treated barometric pressure changes as an important variable to keeping our bodies healthy.

*****

I go back and think about that year when Austin Meadows was walking around with a gallon jug of water, armed with a goal of one and a half gallons per day.

This is similar to the recommendation that we all drink eight glasses of water a day.

Why is every day considered the same?

The Pirates have used the “Iron Man” shirts that detect how much a player sweats in a day. This helps to track a player’s activity, which is an important variable for day-to-day hydration efforts.

We already know that a player is going to need more water in a game where he starts, versus a game when he comes off the bench. We factor those in.

But games aren’t played in a barometric vacuum. The weather and pressure one day won’t be the same as the next day. If you’re starting a game on two different days, but one of those days features a barometric pressure drop which causes your muscles to contract, the same amount of hydration on both days won’t lead to the same results.

I used Meadows in this story above only because his comments about hydration. His attempt that year of drinking 192 ounces of water a day — three times the normal recommended 64 ounce amount — is a buckshot approach. You probably don’t need 192 ounces every day, but there might be one day where you do need that much.

Could we be missing an important variable in our atmosphere that tells us which day to target with more hydration?

What if focusing on barometric pressure changes could lead to better results in keeping players healthy?

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