The weather outside is frightful, and suddenly your chronic pain symptoms seem to be getting worse. What’s going on? Many patients report an increase in symptoms as the temperatures drop. Doctors cannot entirely explain this phenomenon, but several theories exist:
- Nerve endings become more sensitive in the cold.
- Cold temperatures cause tissues to shrink, pulling on nerve endings and causing pain in the joints.
- Changes in barometric pressure promote swelling and inflammation in joint tissues (Source: Health Central).
Managing chronic pain requires a year-round approach, but there are additional steps you can take during the cold winter months to help alleviate your symptoms.
Keeping your body warm will prevent joints from stiffening and becoming painful. Dress in layers of clothing that can easily be added or removed throughout the day for optimum comfort. Use scarves, gloves and socks to keep your extremities warm, and have plenty of blankets available in the main living areas of your home.
Perform morning and evening stretches
Light stretches in the morning and evening will keep joints lubricated and limber throughout the day. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about specific stretches that target your most bothersome joints.
Protect yourself against further injury by taking steps to prevent falls in your home. Remove any clutter from high traffic areas of your home. This includes small pieces of furniture, piles of books or magazines, pet toys or food dishes, and electrical cords or wires. Place non-slip strips or mats on slippery surfaces such as your bathtub or bathroom floor. Attach all area rugs or carpets to the floor with double-sided tape.
Exercise is probably the last thing you have in mind when your joints are aching, but remaining sedentary can actually make joint pain worse. If you have access to a gym or wellness center, swim a few laps in a heated therapy pool, take an beginner’s aerobics class, or go for a brisk walk on the indoor track. If you’d rather exercise at home, try walking on the treadmill or working out with an exercise DVD.
Some patients require an increase in their pain medications to help them through the winter months. Talk to your doctor about over-the-counter and prescription options that can keep your chronic pain symptoms under control.