Timothy E Snell, MD

November 7th, 2016

pain-and-temperature-dr-snellAs the days get shorter and the weather colder, people often report an increase in pain and pain symptoms. Those with chronic pain swear the aches in their bones and joints are a predictor of impending rainy or cold weather. While scientists continue to study the correlation between pain and inclement weather, the evidence thus far is largely inconclusive.

In fact, the link between pain and weather comes with mixed emotions as well as conclusions. Although many say that their pain worsens with damp, rainy weather, it may not be the cold, wind, rain or snow, but rather barometric pressure, relative humidity and a seasonal shift in activity levels.

For some, a change in barometric pressure can trigger joint pain, migraines and headaches. For others, an uptick in pain may be the result of a decrease in activity level; a lower sense of daily satisfaction (perhaps due to weather related decrease in activities such as gardening or golf) or perhaps fewer hours of sunlight.

I offer some pain-relieving tips as we transition into the winter weather season.

Stay Active
Not surprisingly, temperature changes often lead to a lack of activity. You can increase your level of movement by strolling around the mall or by enrolling in yoga, tai chi or other classes that are comfortable for your level of activity. Exercise is great for your physical wellbeing, as an added benefit, classes can bolster your social and emotional wellbeing.

Stay Warm
When we experience cold, we tend to hunker down and our muscles tighten up. The goal then is to stay warm by dressing in layers, drinking warm drinks, taking warm baths or keeping your house at a constant temperature.

Be Aware of Your Mood
People with chronic pain often feel anxious, depressed, and irritable. A hobby, a friendship group, stimulating activities, little successes and moments that bring joy can help you feel better both emotionally and physically. For some, limiting screen time can change perceptions; for others, adequate sleep, diet and weight loss can have a positive emotional impact. We know that distraction is valuable, so have something to keep your mind occupied, and keep active.

I know that when pain increases, the motivation to move and stay active can plummet. I talk to each of my patients and encourage them to stay positive; it can take a while to see the results of changes when we make any transition. Take baby steps; break things down into bite-size pieces. Learn how to pace yourself, and figure out how and what works for you.

When pain interferes with your ability to enjoy daily activities and family, it is time to speak to your doctor.