Can cold weather make pain worse?
But what does the evidence suggest? And how can we manage our pain during the colder months. Our pharmacist Anshu Bhimbat explains.
Arthritis and the weather
A 2016 Australian study on osteoarthritis patients found no link between any aspects of the weather and pain, while research published by the American Academy of Pain Medicine, studied nearly 1,000 low back pain sufferers and came to the same conclusion. Researchers have suggested that people tend to focus more on pain in bad weather, and as a result feel that it becomes worse then.
So it’s all in the mind?
Not always. There are some painful conditions that are directly affected by temperature. Raynaud’s disease (when arteries supplying blood to the skin are narrow and limit blood circulation), affects circulation to the extent that fingers and toes turn white. Reduced circulation can also intensify pain caused by neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s.
“In cold weather you may stay in more and be less active, which reduces circulation and can make joints and muscles feel stiffer,” says LloydsPharmacy pharmacist Anshu Bhimbat. However, while there have been many scientific studies into how the weather affects pain, there is no hard evidence to link cold weather with increased pain.
How can I prepare for the colder months?
Make sure you don’t run out of your regular medication if you have a condition that feels worse when it’s cold. You can also use drug-free pain relief options such as Flexiseq or Flexiseq Active gels, which help lubricate the joints, or a TENS machine. This is a small, battery-operated device, which releases low-voltage electrical pulses to the affected area, blocking pain signals and stimulating production of feel-good chemicals called endorphins.
Applying heat pads or a hot water bottle can relieve stiffness in joints and muscles, too. The best thing is to go to your local LloydsPharmacy, where we will be able to chat to you more about what is right for you.
How can I stay warm?
- Keep moving – regular exercise stimulates the muscles, bones and the cartilage around the joints, keeping them mobile. Ask your doctor’s advice on type of activity and amount.
- Have regular hot drinks.
- If you smoke, try to stop. Smoking narrows the blood vessels, restricting your circulation.
- Dress in layers – this traps air and will keep you warmer than one thick item of clothing.
- Avoid alcohol if you’re cold as it reduces core body temperature.
- Try warming products, such as heated gloves and jackets, a heated cape and a foot warmer, available from your nearest LloydsPharmacy.
What about supplements?
“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. Last year, Public Health England recommended that anyone over the age of one should consider a daily supplement of 10mcg.”