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Does pain get worse in cold temperatures?

Woman sat on the edge of her bed holding her lower back with two hands in pain
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If you have arthritis, back pain or another condition that causes chronic pain, you might find that your symptoms get worse in cold temperatures. Read on to find out what our pharmacist Anshu Bhimbat has to say on this subject – and how you can alleviate your own cold weather symptoms!

How chronic pain is affected by cold weather

There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that indicates a link between cold weather and pain – in other words, it’s something reported by many people with arthritis and other chronic pain conditions. However, scientific evidence supporting the link is very limited, which means we don’t really understand why it happens.

Theories include the following:

  • Cold weather makes us less active, which leads to decreased circulation and increased stiffness and pain
  • Cold weather increases the pressure inside our joints
  • Our pain receptors become more sensitive in the cold, which means we feel more pain

It’s also possible that there’s a psychological element to this phenomenon. If you’re someone whose mood is negatively impacted by cold weather and a lack of daylight, you might find that you have enhanced feelings of pain and discomfort during the winter months.

Chronic pain and arthritis pain relief

If you live with any kind of chronic pain condition, it’s important that you check in with your GP or specialist regularly to make sure your symptoms are well managed. If you do find that your pain gets worse during the cold weather, talk to a doctor about what you can do to reduce the severity of your symptoms.

How can I prepare for the colder temperatures?

The most important thing is to make sure you don’t run out of your regular medication if you have a condition that feels worse when it’s cold. Other than that, you can stock up on drug-free pain relief such as Flexiseq, which helps to lubricate the joints, and use heat pads or a hot water bottle to relieve stiffness.

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Another good option is a TENS machine – this is a small, battery-operated device, which attaches to the skin with sticky pads. Low-voltage electrical pulses are directed to the affected area through these pads, blocking pain signals and stimulating the production of feel-good chemicals called endorphins.

For more ideas and advice, pop to your local LloydsPharmacy and chat to one our pharmacists.

Staying warm to prevent your condition from worsening

Anshu has the following tips for keeping warm:

  • Keep moving – regular exercise stimulates the muscles, bones and the cartilage around the joints, keeping them mobile. You can ask your doctor’s advice about which types of activity are suitable for your condition.
  • Drink hot drinks – but just make sure you’re not loading up too much on caffeine or sugar.
  • Try to quit smokingsmoking narrows the blood vessels, restricting your circulation.
  • Dress in layers – this traps air and will keep you warmer, rather than one thick item of clothing.
  • Avoid alcohol – drinking alcohol may make you feel warm initially, but it reduces your core body temperature.
  • Try warming products – stay toasty with heated gloves, jackets and capes and foot warmers, which are available from LloydsPharmacy.

Supplement treatments for chronic pain

Omega 3 supplements can help circulation, while vitamin D is important for joints and bones,” says Anshu. “Many people in the UK have low vitamin D levels in winter as it’s mainly made by the action of sunlight on the skin between May and October. This is why Public Health England recommends a daily supplement of 10mcg.”

References

https://academic.oup.com/painmedicine/article/18/6
https://www.oarsijournal.com/article/S1063-4584(16)30205-9
https://www.heartuk.org.uk/low-cholesterol-foods/omega-3-fats
https://patient.info/news-and-features/can-winter-weather-make-joint-pain-worse