It’s January, which means most parts of the Northern Hemisphere are deep into winter, and there will be weeks of biting wind and icy precipitation before the temperatures increase. While the cold season is tough for most people, those who experience chronic pain often find low temperatures to be especially troublesome. Here’s the truth of how cold weather can affect chronic pain — and what sufferers can do to relieve it.
Doctors often advise chronic pain sufferers to relocate from humid regions to drier parts of the country. This is because heat and humidity can intensify inflammation, which worsens chronic pain. However, when winter hits, the air can become so dry that it impacts pain more than humidity.
Dry air is harsh on the respiratory system, which relies on moisture to keep the tissues healthy. The biting, dry air of the winter can quickly dry out nasal passages and sinuses, which makes breathing painful and difficult. It can also increase one’s risk of disease because the mucus layers that would trap and expel pathogens have dried up. As any chronic pain sufferer knows, even the mildest cold can wreak havoc on a pain management plan and result in additional agony.
Chronic pain sufferers would do well to invest in a humidifier, which will keep inside air appropriate moist during the cold season. This should keep the respiratory system healthily wet and prevent undue pain from breathing.
Most chronic pain sufferers are familiar with the concept of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. This mental illness develops on a seasonal basis, but most sufferers experience it in the winter, when there are darker days and longer nights, resulting in less sunshine all-around. SAD usually manifests as a form of depression, so sufferers feel less energic, lose interest in hobbies and activities, have problems sleeping or eating and generally feel hopeless. In most people, sunlight encourages the body to release serotonin, with is a powerful neurotransmitter affecting mood. Because mood has a significant bearing on pain, chronic sufferers should be aware of SAD and its effects.
Less sunlight during the winter can also increase pain because it means the body isn’t synthesizing as much vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for physical and mental health; it helps the body absorb calcium and boosts the immune system. Vitamin D deficiencies are common amongst chronic pain sufferers, and increasing vitamin D uptake has been linked with a decrease in pain intensity.
Chronic pain sufferers should seek sunlight wherever they can, which means going out on sunny days to soak up rays and scheduling vacations to warmer climes during the depths of winter. Additionally, sufferers should eat foods that have more vitamin D, such as fatty fish, cheese and eggs.
Low Temperatures and Pressure
Chronic pain sufferers who live closer to the North Pole, in regions like Maine, Michigan and Alaska, endure unbelievably low temperatures in the wintertime, and often, these low temps are accompanied by low barometric pressure as winter storms move in and drop snow. The cold is worrying on its own; low temps usually cause people to huddle for warmth under blankets and near fires. This decrease in activity leads to stiffness, which tends to exacerbate chronic pain. Additionally, cold air and wind can literally sting the skin, even causing frostnip or frostbite.
Low pressure is a totally different beast. Though sufferers might not be able to see a low-pressure front moving in, they will almost certainly be able to feel it. Low barometric pressure causes blood pressure to drop and blood viscosity to increase. This means that blood has a harder time moving through the body, and that often means that pain becomes more acute.
Fortunately, chronic pain sufferers can avoid the cold by staying indoors and cranking up the thermostat, so movement isn’t difficult. Unfortunately, low pressure is much more insidious and much harder to avoid. If chronic pain becomes unmanageable due to low pressure, sufferers can always consult Michigan pain specialists for more customized treatment.
Connection to Warming Wardrobes and Tools
When it gets cold, everyone bundles up. Yet, for chronic pain sufferers, winter wardrobes aren’t exactly conducive to a pain-free lifestyle. Heavy layers can weigh on delicate parts of the body, like shoulders, hips and knees, and cause extra pain. Other winter accessories, like hats, headbands and gloves, can be restrictive and also result in pain.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a good way to get around cold season clothing. It is far better to be bundled up than to face the temperature and weather unprotected. However, chronic pain sufferers should try to avoid wearing heavy or tight clothes unless they need to venture outside; otherwise, light clothing and a warm furnace should be enough.
The winter is hard for most people, but chronic pain sufferers have it especially tough. By going into the season with the right attitude, the right tools and the right recourse in case pain appears, sufferers can survive and thrive throughout the winter months.