If you find the cold weather affects your pain, you’re not alone. Many chronic pain sufferers insist that the chilly weather aggravates their symptoms, but up until recently, the evidence has been mostly anecdotal. However, we now know without a doubt that the connection between pain and cold weather is very real.
What does the science say about cold weather and pain?
Thankfully, we now have solid research backing up what we always knew – cold weather can make chronic pain worse. One study found that each 10°C drop in temperature was linked with an increase in pain. This may because cold weather causes soft tissues to become firmer and tighter, resulting in pain. It may also be down to the drop in barometric pressure that happens when the temperature drops. This causes your body’s tissues to expand, putting pressure on the surrounding joints and causing inflammation and pain.
What can you do to manage pain when it’s cold?
We can’t prevent the cold weather, but we can take certain steps to minimise the effect it has on our pain. Here are some tips for coping when the weather gets cold…
Exercise improves your circulation and helps to keep your body warmer. On days when it’s so cold you don’t want to go outside, opt for indoor activities such as an online fitness or yoga class, or head to the gym and hop on the treadmill or exercise bike.
The Weather Flare app lets you see the week ahead and plan when to go out and when to stay in. Plan to take a walk or do any errands on milder days, and then schedule time for indoor activities when the weather is at its worst. The more prepared you are for the cold weather, the easier it is to avoid it.
Wrap up warm. If you have to go out, wear multiple layers rather than one thick layer, and top with heat-trapping fabrics like wool. Not only is this more effective at warming you up, but it lets you remove layers if you get too warm. Don’t forget your hat, scarf and gloves, and wear an extra pair of socks if your feet get cold easily.
Warm your joints. A nice shower or bath will warm you up and ease stiff and painful joints. For targeted relief, you can also use a hot water bottle of a microwaveable heat pack.
Avoid caffeine. Hot drinks are great for keeping you warm, but too much caffeine can cause your blood vessels to temporarily narrow. This restricts blood flow to your extremities, which can lead to increased nerve pain. Consider caffeine-free alternatives such as decaf tea or coffee, herbal or fruit teas, or hot lemon, mint or chai tea.
Eat well. The NHS says that eating regular meals helps to maintain your body temperature and give you the energy you need to stay warm. They recommend eating at least one hot meal a day, along with lots of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables.
Keep your home warm. A comfortable temperature for most people is above 18°C, but you might need to set the thermostat a bit higher if you have a chronic pain condition. Keep heat in by drawing the curtains at sunset and keeping your inside doors closed, and use draught excluders on your external doors.
Struggling to heat your home?
If you’re on a low income or receiving benefits, you might find it hard to manage increased heating costs in winter. It might be tempting to wrap up and keep the heating off, but this can make your pain worse in the long run. Visit the government’s Simple Energy Advice website for advice on reducing your bills, and be sure to check if you qualify for support like the Winter Fuel Payment and the Cold Weather Payment.
We’re currently in the beta testing phase of the Weather Flare app. We’re working on making it as useful as possible for you, and we’d love your feedback on what’s working well and what needs improvement. Download the beta Weather Flare app now on iOS and Android to get started!