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How Does Cold Weather Affect Pain?

How Does Cold Weather Affect Pain?

As leaves begin to fall and you break out a jacket and your sweaters, it is safe to say that colder weather is on the horizon. People have very different opinions on the colder temperatures – either they love it, or dislike it. However, regardless of your personal feelings, a drop in degrees affects the body similarly in everyone. A change in weather requires the body to function differently in order to conserve heat.

For those with a chronic condition and have a weakened system can suffer, resulting in fatigue, worsened pain, and even immobilization. In fact, 92% of patients suffering from chronic pain believe their symptoms are exaggerated when the weather gets colder. Being aware of the impact that colder weather has on your body can help reduce the pains of winter. 

Why A Drop in Temperature Results in Greater Pain

Despite a definitive, scientific relationship between cold weather patterns and chronic pain symptoms, patients report the changes their body experience when barometric pressure changes due to cold fronts and a change in humidity. 

Most of the reported pain symptoms are a result of swelling of joints and their surrounding tissues. When barometric pressure drops due to bad weather, the air pressure pushes with less force against joints. This allows the tissues to expand, which in turn applies greater pressure to the joints. Patients with arthritis and fibromyalgia report aggravated pain. 

Reduced temperatures can cause muscle stiffness, which makes moving and daily activities painful. However, remaining inactive leads to even greater pain. When muscles are stiff and tight, spasms are more likely to occur, leading to intense discomfort and pain. In patients with fibromyalgia, shortened muscles, caused by temperature drops in energy-deficient muscles is the main cause of pain. 

For some patients, their chronic condition may be so severe that even a minor change in temperature can result in worsened symptoms. It may be their first response to become dependent on a heating device, such as a heated blanket or hot water bottle, however, this can also cause painful side effects. Weakness, nausea, and change in brain activity can result from overheating. 

In patients who suffer from pain due to oversensitive nerves, the colder temperatures can cause widespread muscle and joint pain. This is caused by an increase in nerve receptivity. Cold weather has a negative influence on nerve conduction, so any pre-existing nerve damage becomes more noticeable. 

Ways to Reduce Pain in Colder Weather

Chronic pain patients can utilize a variety of methods to fight weather-related pain. Simple actions and changes to their daily lifestyle help keep the body warm and reduce pain caused by lower temperatures. 

Vitamin D is essential to maintaining energy and mindset. During the winter, it is common to battle seasonal depression and feeling slower due to reduced exposure to sunlight. Retaining higher levels of Vitamin D is important to help the body function properly and aids in reducing pain and stiffness. You can increase your Vitamin D intake by adding fatty fish and seafood to your diet, trying a UV light, or taking a supplement. 

Winter alcoholic beverages may seem like they provide a cozy, toasty sensation, but they can actually lower body heat. Alcohol causes blood vessels to dilate, resulting in heat loss. Instead of having an alcoholic nightcap, try sipping on herbal tea to warm up and relax your body. 

Even if you can’t exercise outside, it is recommended to get 30-45 minutes of cardio, strength, or flexibility training each day. Low impact exercises such as yoga or tai chi help stretch the muscles and reduce mental stress. Cardio activities such as a treadmill or elliptical build muscle while increasing your heart rate. 

It is important to remember to consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise routine. Even mild chronic pain conditions can be aggravated by overexertion. A physician can help determine appropriate exercises and stretches to combat your specific pain.


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