Millions of people look forward to the summer months as a time for outdoor activities and travel. For people experiencing chronic pain, the hotter months may also make it more challenging to enjoy these activities. Weather sensitivity can make people with painful conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia and migraine headaches experience more severe symptoms.
Weather and Chronic Pain
How does hot weather affect chronic pain? One way is through changes in the barometric pressure. Barometric pressure is a measurement of atmospheric pressure or force exerted on a surface, like your body. It can increase pressure on joints, tissues, nerves and other systems, causing or increasing pain. Various studies have found evidence there is a connection between weather and chronic pain, with the barometric pressure playing a central role.
A study on the association between fibromyalgia pain and temperature, relative humidity and barometric pressure found that lower barometric pressure and increased humidity were associated with increased pain. Another study found the joint pain experienced by people with osteoarthritis, another source of chronic pain, is linked to temperature and humidity.
Some doctors believe a change in barometric pressure may cause the tendons, muscles, scar tissue and bones to contract and expand, causing or increasing pain. A study on barometric pressure and people experiencing migraine headaches found that lower barometric pressure led to an increase in the frequency of migraine headaches. A dry warm summer also increases the chances of experiencing dehydration which can trigger headaches.
According to one study, Multiple sclerosis (MS) sufferers are more sensitive to heat. Increasing the body’s temperature leads to Uhthoff’s Phenomenon (a vision problem). It can also cause more pain, fatigue and other problems.
The medical research is continuing, but it is clear that barometric pressure and body aches are linked. At the same time, hot weather can increase body temperature, influencing the pain level or causing general body aches in summer. It makes it difficult to enjoy summer. In fact, even a change in weather can influence pain severity. A Tufts University study found that a 10-degree change in temperature is associated with more pain.
Ways to Manage Chronic Pain During Summer Months
The medical research and anecdotes by people experiencing pain leads to the conclusion there is a link between weather and chronic pain all over the body. Following are some ways to manage chronic pain during the summer months.
- Never allow yourself to get dehydrated by drinking plenty of water
- When possible, avoid being outside in high temperatures
- Choose activities like swimming which keep the body cool
- Wear cotton or wicking loose clothing which helps keep the body cool
- Enjoy activities during the cooler hours, like morning or early evening
- Carry and use cooling devices, like cooling wraps, handheld fans, etc.
- Avoid sitting on hard seating – typical of sports arenas and at picnics – without a cushion to avoid aggravating chronic back pain and knee pain
- Do not stay in the sun for long periods of time
- Avoid long periods of sitting while traveling to avoid the stress it places on the neck, spine and legs
The best courses of action are practical and small changes in behavior.
Living with chronic pain is a balancing act. You want to enjoy the summer months but do not want to increase your pain. Taking precautions to not raise your body temperature, paying attention to the barometric pressure and following behaviors that are meant to cool the body can keep body aches in summer under control.