HOW DOES COLD WEATHER AFFECT CHRONIC PAIN?
Updated: Oct 19
Have you noticed your chronic pain getting worse when it’s cold? Can you feel a cold spell coming on even before it happens? You might have been told it’s just an old wives’ tale, but research shows that it’s not your imagination.
What is chronic pain?
Chronic pain is defined as pain that continues for over 12 weeks, despite medication or treatment. It can affect people living with conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia or even diabetes. There are many factors that affect chronic pain, and you may find that what aggravates your pain differs from other people’s triggers.
How does cold weather affect chronic pain?
In the past, it’s been difficult to find studies that prove the link between cold weather and pain, but evidence is stacking up.
One study showed that each 10-degree temperature drop was linked to an incremental increase in pain.
When the temperature drops, the tissue in your body expands and put pressure on the surrounding joints. Soft tissue can also become firmer and tighter in cold weather, leading to painful muscle spasms.
In a study on fibromyalgia – which is traditionally extremely difficult to diagnose – doctors found that there was an increase in the number of sensory nerve fibres in the hands of people with fibromyalgia. The blood vessels in your hands and feet help blood flow and regulate temperature. Dr Rice, who led the study, saysthat this explains why fibromyalgia sufferers experience more pain when it’s cold.
What can we do to ease the pain?
Cold weather is a fact of life, but fortunately there are some things we can do to find relief. Here are our top tips for managing your pain in cold weather.
Layer up. Several layers of clothing trap heat better than a single, thicker layer of clothes. Try two pairs of socks, and choose slippers, shoes or boots with sheepskin or synthetic fur linings to help keep your feet warm.
Prepare. Use the Weather Flare app to see which days are most likely to trigger your pain, and plan your week accordingly. Try to stay in and keep warm on particularly cold days, and save outside activities for milder days when the cold won’t affect your pain as much.
Take a warm bath. As well as keeping you toasty, a warm shower or bath before bed can help ease stiff and painful joints.
Keep active. The NHS recommends regular exercise for all chronic pain conditions, as it improves your circulation and can boost your core temperature. It may be tempting to skip your workout on cold days, but a lack of activity will make your pain worse. To keep your outdoor time to a minimum, consider working out at the gym or doing an online yoga video at home.
Eat healthily. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables will give you the energy and nutrients you need to stay active, and hot meals and drinks will warm you up on a cold day.
Avoid smoking and caffeine. Both smoking and excessive caffeine can narrow the blood vessels, which restricts the blood flow to your extremities. This makes your hands and feet feel colder and leads to increased nerve pain. Skip the cigarettes and drink herbal teas or caffeine-free options to warm you up.
The weather can be very changeable, so be prepared and keep warm clothes to hand. Always check the weather where you’re going, and don’t assume a mild morning will equal a mild day.
The Weather Flare app has been designed to help people navigate the effects of the weather on their chronic conditions. It’s now available to download on iOS and Android, so download it today and see how much it can help you! We’re currently in the beta testing phase of the app, so send us your feedback and tell us how we can make it even more useful.
Help us crowdfund to finish building the Weather Flare app. The finished version will learn how the weather is affecting the user’s condition/s and produce a personalised weather forecast showing good, bearable and tricky days. https://igg.me/at/weatherflare/x#/