You might be surprised to know that scientists are extremely skeptical about what changes the weather actually brings to those who deal with pain. We all know arthritic patients who swear that they “feel it in their bones” when there are changes in the humidity or drops in temperature. Yet, there is no concrete evidence that changes in the weather truly create measurable physical changes in our bodies.
But, if a person sees those looming storm clouds or watches the Weather Channel’s forecasts for dipping temperatures, there may be a psychological component to their experiences of low temperature weather pain. If a person has previously felt increased arthritic symptoms in the cold weather, then the brain may be sending a message to their body to prepare for more pain. This could, in turn, “excite” the pain nerve receptors, thereby activating them.
Even if we can’t find a reason for more symptoms during cold weather months, we still have to treat the pain. So, all pain patients should be aware of the following steps that can lessen pain:
Changes in medication might be necessary. This might mean actually changing the class of medication that is being used to treat your pain or it could mean changing the dosage.
Staying warm is also key, so that your mind and your body don’t feel exposed to cold. Make preparations before you hit the outside morning air. Be sure you are fully bundled up; don’t wait to zip up after you’ve already walked out the door. Try to warm up the car ahead of time (or get somebody else to start the car for you), if your car is kept outside. Dress in layers so that you feel toasty, but not sweaty. You can always remove layers if you warm up throughout the day.
Concentrate on reducing swelling in affected joints. Osteoarthritis is essentially swelling in the joints. Anything you can do to decrease the swelling will decrease the pain. Unfortunately, heat does not decrease swelling. But there are other methods: gloves and splints worn on swollen hands can bring down the swelling.
Exercise and movement are essential. It may seem counterintuitive; if you are feeling pain, you may want to go back to bed or to become totally sedentary. In fact, this is absolutely the wrong way to go. Regular, gentle, fluid motion does keep arthritis pain at bay. Water aerobics, light walking, stretching, yoga and other activities can be helpful. Activities that have a social component also can combat the depression that may accompany chronic pain.