How Cooler Weather Affects Chronic Pain

For those of you who deal with chronic pain, does cold weather worsen your pain?

As we say goodbye to summer and look ahead to autumn, here are some tips for our readers who feel their chronic pain gets worse with colder weather.

See 11 Chronic Pain Control Techniques

Cauliflower videoIf cold weather increases your pain, you can fight off its effects with this do-it-yourself moist heat pack.
Video: How to Make a Moist Heat Pack

Scientific vs. anecdotal evidence

There’s not a lot of scientific evidence showing a correlation between weather changes and chronic pain. Various studies have shown no or very slight associations between pain and weather factors like temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and wind speed. The strongest evidence points to weather's effects on those with joint pain conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

See Causes of Osteoarthritis and Spinal Arthritis

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However, patient experiences tell a different story. Many people on our Facebook page and in our forums report that damp or cold weather worsens their pain. One study of 800 Europeans with osteoarthritis found that 67% reported that they feel the weather affects their pain levels.1

See Noninvasive Pain Management Techniques

In another small but fascinating study, those who had osteoarthritis reported a greater sensitivity to cold and pressure than control subjects without arthritis—even when parts of the body not affected by arthritis were tested. This suggests to the study authors that chronic pain may alter the way nerves respond to stimuli and increase their sensitivity.2

Combat cold-weather pain with your own heat

If the cold makes your pain worse, try incorporating heat therapy into your daily routine. Heat therapy decreases stiffness and promotes healing through increased circulation.

Here are a few ideas for adding heat to your routine:

  • Apply a hot pack, warm towel, or heating pad to the painful area. Simply doing this for 20 minutes at a time may be enough for temporary pain relief.

  • See Benefits of Heat Therapy for Lower Back Pain

  • Use over-the-counter heat wraps. Available in most grocery stores/pharmacies, heat wraps can provide warmth for joint-related back pain and other symptoms for up to 8 hours at a time.

  • See Heat Wrap Therapy Can Reduce Post-Exercise Low Back Pain

  • Try water therapy. You may experience pain relief by swimming in a heated indoor pool a few times per week, or by soaking a whirlpool or hot bath.

  • See Water Therapy Exercise Program

  • Stay active. It can be tempting to hibernate during cold weather, but inactivity can increase some types of pain. If you prefer to stay inside, consider getting a treadmill, so you can walk while you watch TV or a movie.

  • See Exercise and Back Pain

Weather changes are unavoidable, but you can take steps to manage the worst effects of it.

Learn more

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  1. Self-perceived weather sensitivity and joint pain in older people with osteoarthritis in six European countries: results from the European Project on OSteoArthritis (EPOSA). BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2014 Mar 5;15:66. doi: 10.1186/1471-2474-15-66.
  2. Subjects with Knee Osteoarthritis Exhibit Widespread Hyperalgesia to Pressure and Cold. PLoS One. 2016 Jan 25;11(1):e0147526. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0147526. eCollection 2016.
Post written by Carrie DeVries