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Does Winter Weather Make Pain Worse?

Dr. Harris BramWintry cold has hit most of the country with a vengeance. And many people are noticing that their aches and pains are getting worse or happening more frequently. Why? Not only does the colder air cause flare-ups of many conditions, changes in barometric pressure or humidity can also make ailments worse.

How much does cold weather contribute to pain?

As we endure snow storms and brutal weather, many people experience increased pain in the joints, neck and back. It can be very painful for those with severe conditions, such as complex regional pain syndrome, arthritis, and low back pain. Some people can predict approaching cold weather by how much pain they feel.

Studies have found a strong relationship between short, cold, damp days and arthritis flare-ups. Some research suggests changes in barometric pressure worsens knee pain in people with arthritis, while freezing temps can cause painful changes in joint fluid thickness. Cold weather can actually shrink the tissues causing them to pull on the nerve endings, thus causing joint pain. When it is cold, your nerve endings are extremely sensitive and the muscles surrounding your nerves tense up. When the barometric pressure drops, there is less atmospheric pressure to hold the tissues back and it causes more inflamed tissue to swell and thus, cold weather causes pain.

Tips to minimize the painful effects of cold weather

  • Keep bundled up so that your muscles and nerves stay warm. This can help the muscles not contract as much around your nerve endings, thus minimizing the pain you feel.
  • Make sure you stretch in the morning and evening. This can help keep you stay limber and not tense up.
  • Make sure you exercise regularly, preferably indoors. It is important to stay active to keep joints from getting stagnant. When you don’t move your muscles or joints regularly they will stiffen and make it more painful when you do move them.
  • If you must shovel snow, be sure to use your legs, not your back, when you bend down to clear it. It’s best to push snow rather than lift it – and to use an ergonomically designed shovel. It’s lightweight with a curved shaft, which will help you keep your back upright. Pick up smaller batches of snow for less weight per shovel. Also, try to shovel in both directions. Shoveling in one direction repetitively across the body, can exacerbate strain.
  • Walk on ice carefully. It’s a balancing act that causes you to unconsciously tense your body bracing for a fall – which actually makes you more likely to injure yourself. Be conscious of this body tension – it can take a toll on your muscles, making you feel achier at the end of the day. On ice, the safest thing to do is a shuffle step without lifting your feet. Also, make sure your footwear is sensible and comfortable, with good arch support.
  • When you hurt, try to swim in a heated pool, to help alleviate pain.

As always, if you ever experience severe pain or swelling, or worsening or extended discomfort, contact us as New Jersey Pain Care Specialists and our attentive staff with explain what we can do to help.



About The Author

Picture of Dr. Harris Bram, MD, DABPM

Dr. Harris Bram, MD, DABPM

Dr. Harris Bram is an Interventional Pain Management Specialist in New Jersey. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. His postgraduate training in anesthesia was performed at Hahnemann University Hospital, where he sub-specialized in cardiac anesthesia. He completed his pain management fellowship at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, PA.

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