How Cooler Weather Affects Chronic PainNewsletter from Spine-health November 2016
Does cold weather worsen your pain? You’re not alone. Although various studies have shown no or very slight associations between pain and weather factors like temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and wind speed, patient experiences tell a different story. Many people report that damp or cold weather worsens their pain. One study of 800 Europeans with osteoarthritis found that 67% reported that they feel the weather affects their pain levels. (1)
In another small but fascinating study, those who had osteoarthritis reported a greater sensitivity to cold and pressure than control subjects without arthritis—even when parts of the body not affected by arthritis were tested. This suggests to the study authors that chronic pain may alter the way nerves respond to stimuli and increase their sensitivity. (2) If the cold makes your pain worse, try incorporating heat therapy into your daily routine. Heat therapy decreases stiffness and promotes healing through increased circulation.
Here are a few ideas for adding heat to your routine:
• Apply a hot pack, warm towel, or heating pad to the painful area. Simply doing this for 20 minutes at a time may be enough for temporary pain relief.
• Use over-the-counter heat wraps. Available in most grocery stores and pharmacies, heat wraps can provide warmth for joint-related back pain and other symptoms for up to 8 hours at a time.
• Try water therapy. You may experience pain relief by swimming in a heated indoor pool a few times per week, or by soaking a whirlpool or hot bath.
• Stay active. It can be tempting to hibernate during the colder months, but inactivity can increase some types of pain. If you prefer to stay inside, consider getting a treadmill—you can walk while you watch TV or a movie. Weather changes are unavoidable, but you can take steps to manage the worst effects of it.
References:1. Self-perceived weather sensitivity and joint pain in older people with osteoarthritis in six European countries: results from the European Project on OSteoArthritis (EPOSA). BMC Musculoskeletisord. 2014 Mar 5;15:66.
2. Subjects with Knee Osteoarthritis Exhibit Widespread Hyperalgesia to Pressure and Cold. PLoS One. 2016 Jan 25;11(1):e0147526. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0147526.
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