Many people with arthritis or other chronic pain conditions dread winter because of how the cold affects their pain. Chronic pain can become much worse when temperatures drop, potentially resulting in fatigue, isolation, and depression. Being aware of this reality and learning some effective ways to fight pain can help you enjoy the season again.
How Cold Weather Affects Pain
Although medical professionals don’t exactly know why the cold exacerbates pain, one thing is sure: an overwhelming number of patients report that the weather does have an effect. Elevated pain levels due to cold conditions can be an incredibly frustrating problem as patients constantly try to stay warm with heating pads and blankets. The need to stay near a heat source and the stiffness caused by pain both make it difficult to move around–and, worse still, not moving around can increase pain. Another factor is the oversensitivity of the nerves, which can react intensely to temperature changes.
The good news is that there are lots of things you can do to reduce pain and stay more comfortable throughout the winter months. Here are four ways people living with arthritis can do to manage winter pain.
It’s tempting to stay curled up in bed when pain strikes, but it will only make things worse. Keep your body limber with gentle exercises and stretches. Walking, yoga, and tai chi are all great for relieving pain (and stress). If you have access to a heated pool, light swimming is another great activity to try. Remember to take it easy and listen to your body–overwork can lead to excessive pain and long-lasting fatigue.
Your choice of clothing plays a major role in how warm you feel. The right clothes can keep you cozy and warm all day and night. Choose loose-fitting, warm clothes that trap heat next to the body. Some patients even report warm wool clothing works just as well as prescription medications for reducing pain. Wearing layers of warm clothes also allows you to stay warm while you’re up and around instead of stuck under multiple blankets to retain heat.
Check Your Vitamin D
Many patients with chronic pain and depression have low levels of vitamin D because of reduced exposure to sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to increased feelings of sadness and fatigue, so put a stop to this cycle by ensuring you’re getting enough. Ask your doctor if a vitamin D supplement could be an option for you.
Skip the Alcohol
It may seem like that nightcap you enjoy so much gives you a toasty warm feeling, but it actually lowers your body temperature. Alcohol causes your blood vessels to dilate, resulting in the loss of heat. Instead of turning to booze to warm up, reach for some hot herbal tea instead, which will warm you pleasantly while also helping you relax.
By understanding how cold weather is likely to affect your pain, you can be prepared for the winter chill. If these suggestions don’t do the trick, speak to your practitioner about non-traditional treatments such as acupuncture or massage, which can help relieve pain.