Winter can be a pain, but for some it’s actually painful. For some people, cold weather can bring an increase in pain. While scientific studies are sparse and the evidence is sometimes contradictory, both anecdotal evidence and a handful of studies suggest that inclement weather really may play a role in the intensity of chronic pain.
How Weather Changes May Influence Pain
According to the National Institutes of Health, it may be related to barometric pressure. While you’re not conscious of it, the weight of the atmosphere presses down and around you to some degree at all times. This is what we call barometric, or atmospheric, pressure. Normal to high pressure imperceptibly squeezes your body, while low pressure lets it expand a tiny bit.
This expansion of tissue, slight though it is, can increase pressure in your joints or on overly sensitive nerves, causing pain. Temperature itself has also been linked to increased pain in some studies, though the data is inconclusive.
Other Cold-Weather Pain Triggers
Chronic musculoskeletal pain has been strongly linked to vitamin D deficiency. While this isn’t directly weather-related, winter may affect your vitamin D levels. Your body needs sunlight to manufacture vitamin D. Since you spend less time outdoors in the winter, and cover more of your body up, you get less sun exposure and this reduces the amount of vitamin D you manufacture.
Winter can also affect your perception of pain. Dehydration, though often associated with hot weather, is also common during the cold months. Indoor heat and lower humidity tend to dry you out, and you may spend the winter mildly dehydrated. Dehydration has been shown to increase your sensitivity to pain, so winter dehydration may make existing pain seem even worse. Seasonal depression can also heighten pain perception, as can the stress of being chronically cold.
Coping With Cold Weather Pain
There is no magic method for dealing with weather-induced pain. If you find that inclement weather intensifies your pain, the most important part of managing it may be to be prepared.
Keep an eye on the forecast and plan accordingly. If your pain is cold-induced, common-sense precautions are in order; keep your house at a comfortable temperature, dress warmly, and stay indoors when possible. Simple things like warming your car up before you get in it may be helpful.
Vitamin D supplementation may also be helpful, along with getting enough sunlight. This needn’t involve exposing yourself to the elements—opening the drapes and spending time in front of sunny windows each morning can both help alleviate seasonal depression and boost your vitamin D levels.
Heat and cold therapy may also be helpful. Hot soaks relieve muscular tension, which may contribute to pain. However, cold therapy like ice packs may reduce swelling if you have pain and inflammation related to atmospheric pressure.
Most importantly, stay active. Leading a sedentary life through the winter feeds the cycle of injury and leads to more pain in the long run.