People have very different opinions regarding cold weather. Some love the changing of the seasons and the chance to bundle up while others strongly dislike the lack of sun and reduced freedom to spend time outside. Regardless of your personal opinion on cold weather, it affects everyone in a similar manner. As temperatures drop the body slows down meaning it requires more rest to function properly.
For those with a chronic condition such as fibromyalgia, the already weakened system can suffer greatly resulting in extreme fatigue, pain, and immobilization. Being aware of the impact of cold weather when suffering from a chronic condition and implementing cold weather survival tips can help you reduce the pain of the winter season!
Worrying Winter Weather
Even though there has been a significant amount of research done regarding chronic conditions, there is still little known about how weather affects them. Research on joint pain and weather is inconclusive but patients frequently self-report that weather changes do indeed have an impact on their stiffness and pain.
Despite a lack of specific cases showing a definitive correlation between weather patterns and changes in chronic pain levels, there are many personal accounts that illustrate the debilitating effect of cold weather.
Painful Cold Exposure
Winter comes with an increased rate of chronic pain flare-ups and greater reports of debilitating pain and discomfort. If the weather is unwelcoming, patients may become inseparable from warming devices such as heating pads, blankets, and heavy clothing. Worse still, reduced temperatures cause muscle and ligament stiffness, which can make moving arduous and painful. Unfortunately, remaining inactive can lead to even greater pain.
As muscles tighten, spasms are more likely to occur as a natural response to combat inactivity. This can lead to major discomfort and intense pain. As stated by Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, director of the Annapolis Center for Effective Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Fibromyalgia Therapies, shortened muscles, which can be caused by temperature drops in energy-deficient muscles, is the primary source of pain.
For some, their condition is so delicate that even minor fluctuations in temperature result in uncomfortable symptoms. Excessive cold can cause leg, hip, and joint pain while increased heat leads to weakness, nausea, and difficulty thinking clearly.
Another factor in chronic pain is oversensitive nerves. Chronic conditions are frequently accompanied by nerves that react intensely to even minor changes in temperature. Notable drops in temperature can cause widespread muscle and joint pain caused by increased nerve receptivity.
Cold weather also negatively influences nerve conduction meaning that any pre-existing nerve damage that inhibits certain functions can become more prominent.
Reducing Pain Through the Winter
There are a variety of methods that chronic pain sufferers utilize to combat weather-induced pain. Even simple actions can help keep the body warm which may reduce pain caused by colder temperatures.
The following tips are easy to incorporate into your daily life and may aid in reducing chronic pain during winter weather.
The following activities can help relieve pain by keeping the body limber. These activities are low impact and low intensity which reduces the risk of exhaustion.
- Gentle movement exercises such as yoga, walking, tai chi, and qigong help stretch the muscles and have the added benefit of reducing mental stress as well as physical stress.
- Controllable and easily stopped gym activities including the elliptical, cycling, treadmill, and weight training machines can build muscle while maintaining a proper level of effort.
- Light swimming in a heated pool can soothe muscle tension and provide an easy outlet for light physical activity.
It is important to be careful when engaging in physical activity while suffering from a chronic condition. Even mild exercise can cause overexertion resulting in long-lasting fatigue and excessive pain – learn about the very real condition known as exercise intolerance. Always exercise within appropriate ranges and speak with a healthcare specialist before engaging in physical activity.
Get Enough Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that is frequently deficient among those with chronic pain and depression. Part of the reason we tend to feel slower and sadder during the winter is reduced exposure to sunlight, which lowers vitamin D levels and overall energy.
Because vitamin D is synthesized through exposure to sunlight it is common to see levels drop during the winter. Ensuring that your body is getting the vitamin D it needs to function properly may aid in relieving muscle pain and stiffness while also increasing energy. This high-quality vitamin D supplement may be exactly what you need!
One of the best ways to retain heat is to keep cozy with the appropriate clothes. Wearing loose-fitting but heavy, heat-trapping garments can act as a personal temperature regulator.
According to Dr. Teitelbaum, wool clothing such as long underwear, T-shirts, pajamas, and bed linens can in some cases be as effective as prescription medications for reducing fibromyalgia pain. Furthermore, wearing multiple layers such as scarves, beanies, sweaters, gloves, and socks allows you to change your immediate temperature without having to use the thermostat or sit under a mountain of blankets.
Skip the Nightcaps
Even though certain alcoholic beverages may seem like they provide a toasty warming sensation, they can actually lower body heat. Drinking alcohol can cause blood vessels to dilate resulting in heat loss!
Instead of looking to a boozy beverage for warmth try sipping on some herbal tea to heat up the insides while relaxing the body and mind. Here are 6 herbal teas we recommend!
In addition to wearing warm clothing, there are other products that can help keep your home and body warm. Single-use hand and feet warmers can be bought in bulk and easily slipped into your shoes or gloves.
Alternatively, heating pads and microwaveable warmers can be used multiple times and provide relief to more specific locations such as the back, hip, and various joints.
A heavy down comforter is another excellent piece of wintertime equipment as it locks in heat and can help keep your body warm throughout the night.
Warm Up During Winter for Better Pain Relief
By understanding the effect of cold weather on chronic conditions and their associated symptoms you can prepare in advance for the winter chill.
Incorporating low-intensity physical activity, dressing appropriately, and utilizing the many heating options available, you can warm up your winter to avoid increased chronic pain during the cold winter season.