For those of us in the northern hemisphere, we are officially in winter by all definitions. If you’re like me, this is great; I love winter oh so much because I’m a weirdo who loves being cold (to a certain extent, of course) and I was born and raised in northern New England. However, the cold of winter doesn’t always love me. To be more specific, it doesn’t love my body and immune system, aka my pain gets worse when weather gets worse. By this point in my life – I’m in my sixteenth year of being in pain – it doesn’t phase me too much. I know how to manage it, I know how to live my life, and I know when to just accept it and take a day off. But I know that this isn’t the case for everyone, so today I’m sharing my tips for dealing with your chronic pain this winter.
Is There Really a Connection between Pain and Cold Weather?
As you’ve probably heard throughout your life, plenty of people with various pain issues have claimed that their bodies react negatively to cold weather. For me, it’s more that I react to changes in the pressure systems (I call myself your friendly neighborhood arthritic meteorologist). Some studies have actually found that this can be true; a 2007 study done by Tuft University rheumatology found that changes in barometric pressure and ambient temperature contribute independently to increases in arthritic pain and a 2016 study insists, “as time progresses barometric pressure, temperature, and humidity impact patient pain levels.” On the other hand, some studies maintain that this is not the case, like a 2015 study on weather and low back pain and a 2016 study on weather and arthritic knee pain. What I do find interesting, though, is that some studies mention that there is anecdotal accounts from patients that the weather does increase their pain. So, even if medical studies denounce it, if patients insist that they’re in more pain from low temperatures, does the exact influence of weather matter?
I’m not here to debate the scientific validity of these claims because, regardless of the studies presented, so many people insist that weather changes (including cold weather) impact their pain. My own anecdotal evidence demonstrates that this true, so even if you or someone in your life doesn’t believe that the weather can really impact things, know that you’re not alone.
How To Deal with Pain and Cold Weather
In my expertise, there are 3 key aspects to dealing with pain and cold weather: things you have control over, what you don’t, and your life beyond your pain.
Things You Have Control Over – This includes everything everything that you know will happen ahead of time; take your medications, eat well, move when you can, get enough sleep, etc. You can also stock up on items that help you when your pain increases, such as heating pads, ice packs, or KT tape. This way, you’re prepared when bad days strike. If you’re like me, your body throws enough curve balls at you without you creating your own. Start with as good a baseline as you can and then you’ll be ready to handle whatever lemons life gives you.
Dealing with the Unexpected – I think that the best way to manage unexpected bad pain days is to have an emergency plan in place. This could be in two different parts, one for what to do if you have a bad pain day and one for what to do if you have a horrifically bad pain day. Make meals ahead of time and freeze them so you can still eat on the bad days, have emergency medication available if you can, and talk to friends or family and ask them if you can call them for help on bad days. I think that the most important part of planning for unexpected bad days, though, is allowing yourself to have them and don’t beat yourself up for them. It’s not your fault!
Living beyond Pain – You are more than your pain, and your life is more than your pain. It’s good for your mental health for you to remember that. This could mean that you go out of your way to do one thing every day that isn’t related to your health or it could mean that you start some sort of creative exercise to express yourself. But if you know that you’re more likely to have bad pain days over the winter, you also might want to start strategically choosing your activities. I personally prefer committing to fewer things rather than committing to more and having to cancel most. This is just better for my personal outlook on my life.
How It All Comes Together – Sometimes I feel like living with chronic pain is like one of those juggling acts where someone keeps throwing the juggler a new item to add to those in the air. If you practice, you can manage it pretty well, but even then, it doesn’t always work. Do your best, have emergency plans prepared, and don’t beat yourself up if something goes wrong.