YOUR APPROACH TO PAIN RELIEF SHOULD BE MULTI-PRONGED AND HOLISTIC .
In the world of physio , this question is a common patient complaint , “ My joints seem to ache more in winter – is it possible ?”
The answer is , yes !
There are a combination of reasons as to why people experience more pain during the colder winter months – especially when the temperature drops down here in Melbourne .
The cooler temperature can increase the experience of pain for many conditions , and particularly for arthritic conditions . Many of our clients ’ issues relate to arthritic knees , as well as feet , hands and necks all feeling more stiff and sore during the winter months .
Research hints at several possible explanations :
Barometric ( air pressure ) and temperature drops affect tissue elasticity and mobility
Connective tissue properties can undergo subtle changes in elasticity and mobility with temperature and barometric drops . Cooler temperatures can affect joint capsule and ligamentous tissues , making them temporarily less supple . The increased stiffness can lead to experiences of pain in joints . So rugging-up warmly , using heat packs and staying active can counteract this .
We may move less due to bad weather
Bad weather limits outdoor exercise participation and mobility . We cancel our weekend walks , we stay in bed longer and skip exercise classes . We don ’ t take a walk out of the office at lunch .
We know that both healthy bodies and arthritic joints need regular movement and exercise to stay mobile and strong . Often our aches and pains in winter are our body ’ s way of telling us to get up and move more ! So if your back is aching , get off the couch , put on a warm coat and hat , and head to the park for a walk !
Past experience of painful winters
Sometimes people experience anxiety about past pain experiences during winter . Similar to the point above about pain and mental state , the anticipation of pain is enough to sensitise the brain and neural pathways involved in pain perception , and increase the experience of pain .
Functional MRI studies of the brain have shown that thinking about pain activates the same areas of the brain that are active when we are actually experiencing pain . So if we upsettingly recall being sore and stiff last winter , we can reasonably expect to feel sore again . This is a HUGE area of neuroscience – if you ’ d like to learn more , start with the ABC programme , Ask The Doctor : Pain
Poor weather can affect mood , increase sadness and pain experiences
Recent studies on pain have demonstrated that our experience of pain is directly related to our mental state . When we are feeling sad , anxious or stressed we are more likely to perceive higher levels of pain in our bodies . When we are relaxed , supported and happy , we perceive less pain .
In winter , we stay indoors , get less exposure to sunlight and may feel saddened by the cold , dark , wet weather . We often reduce our physical and social activities , which in turn can lower mood and lead to increased perception of pain . So make it a priority to get out and about , stay active and do things that make you feel good – like visiting friends and planning fun activities .
So how can I manage this pain ?
Firstly , you can feel relieved that you are not imagining this – the increased pain you feel in winter is real ! And you can be reassured that it is most likely due to the reasons above , rather than any new damage or injury . Phew !
Your approach to pain relief should be multi-pronged and holistic . Try a combination of traditional pain medication , wearing heat-retaining supports , using hot packs , swimming in heated pools or spas and even using saunas if available to you .
It ’ s important to participate in regular exercise – so stick to a scheduled class or partner-based activity that will make sure you get out of bed and outdoors !
Make sure you remain socially active and participate in activities that make your body and soul feel good – this will help maintain good mental health .
YMCA HEALTHY LIVING MAGAZINE 15