For many people pain can flare up in the cold of winter. The recent snow and drop in temperature in the UK will mean that chronic pain in the country could be worsening. So how does cold weather affect pain and what can be done about it?
The exact causes behind the link between cold weather and increased pain aren’t completely understood. Research to-date has been inconclusive and most reasoning is speculative. There are a number of theories behind the phenomenon including:
- Temperature – lower temperatures cause tissues to contract, putting pressure on nerves. Different tissues contract at different rates, for example scar tissue. This is why the site of a previous injury could experience pain in cold temperatures.
- Pressure – air pressure in winter drops. With this drop, the gases and fluids in joints expand, which can put pressure on surrounding nerves and causing pain.
- Vitamin D – the winter brings less daylight, which is vital for Vitamin D production. Vitamin D is used to maintain healthy bones and cartilage. So with less Vitamin D, pain can be worse, particularly for osteoarthritis patients.
Other theories include: decreased levels of exercise during winter months, pain receptors at trauma sites becoming more susceptible to cold and also increased pain susceptibility as a result of chronic disease.
Which health conditions are commonly affected?
Osteoarthritis patients are most often affected by cold weather. Osteoarthritis affects over 10 million people in the United Kingdom. It involves the breakdown of cartilage and bone in the joints, causing swelling, stiffness, pain and decreased range of motion. Other conditions affected by the cold are gout, migraines and conditions of the trigeminal nerve. This nerve is responsible for sensation in the face and cold wind on the face can stimulate the nerve, resulting in pain.
What can be done?
For joint pain, keeping warm and regular exercise are the two best and easiest choices for relief. Wearing warm clothing, hot baths or a hot water bottle can all be used to keep the muscles and joints warm, reducing pressure on nerves. Exercise and stretching will keep joints warm and limber. It will also help to lose weight, which can cause joint pain. Exercise indoors if possible, but for benefits of exercise in the cold and tips on how to brave it, read our recent blog post.
Other forms of relief can be found in topical creams or gels to rub into the skin. If possible, it is best to avoid oral painkillers such as paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) due to the possible long-term side effects. For arthritis sufferers, Vitamin D supplements will also help aid in fighting pain.
If you’ve had pain flaring up from the cold weather recently and would like to investigate it, our Consultation with the Consultant service could help; we have recently introduced the service to help anyone suffering from pain or illness as quickly as possible.