Making a Shift From Hotter to Cooler Months and Managing Pain

Navigating Pain During Season Shifts

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Joseph Pergolizzi Internal Page

By Joseph Pergolizzi, MD, Healthy Directions

Extreme weather changes can affect a person’s pain levels. The science behind this is called biometeorology, or medical meteorology. Medical literature also provides us insights from physicians that intense hot and cold weather can trigger painful symptoms in their patients. While further study is needed, there are several strategies available to minimize pain brought on by the hot and cold weather, especially as we shift through the seasons.

Chilly Days

People with chronic conditions such as arthritic, rheumatologic conditions, or depression and anxiety are prone to have increased pain during cold winter months. One theory is that when it is colder outside, the barometric pressure drops, which can cause muscles and joint tissue to expand which can in turn cause pain, especially in smaller joints. While you can’t control the weather, you can make yourself more comfortable by changing your routine during chilly days with these tips: 

Create Warmth 

Keeping the body heated can go a long way. Taking warm showers or baths can help. Layer up your clothing and make sure you have insulated gloves and thermal wool socks. If wool bothers your skin, try Alpaca wool, which is warmer, softer, and lighter than sheep’s wool, plus it isn’t scratchy. Utilize heating pads or electric blankets to stay warm in your home.

Stay Active

Maintaining a healthy weight will put less stress on your joints, including your back, knees and hips. It’s challenging to stay active during the winter months, because the weather may not be as nice, but staying active and exercising regularly is critical to reducing pain. Start with exercises that are gentle on your joints, like yoga, tai chi or swimming in a heated, indoor pool. Remember to stretch and loosen muscles and joints before stepping outside in chilly weather.

Steep, Caffeinate and Spice

Hot tea is soothing and can warm up your hands too if you hold your teacup tight. Coffee is actually scientifically proven to heat you up due to the high amounts of caffeine that stimulate the metabolism, encouraging the body to burn fuel. The best way to drink coffee is black since cream and sugar will just break down instantly and produce a sugar crash. Certain foods can also keep you warm like ginger, which will get your blood flowing, helping to warm your extremities and keep away the chills. Also, any spicy pepper will help you heat up your body temp. You may notice the prolonged effect of digesting the fiery fruits due to the chemical called capsaicin that is found in all peppers, meaning you’ll experience similar results with jalapenos and habaneros as well.

Steamy Days

Heat waves and humidity can take a toll on anyone, however, for people in pain, especially those dealing with arthritis and other conditions, heat can make the pain worse. Hot weather alone can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, fatigue, and muscle cramps, even in people who do not normally experience muscle pain – so stay cool using these tips:  

Hydrate All Day

Don’t wait until you are thirsty! Hydrate with water from morning to evening and select beverages wisely, limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption, which can cause dehydration. Certain foods are higher in water content, which make them ideal choices for staying cool. According to the Institute of Medicine, about one-fifth of our water consumption comes from foods – primarily fruits and veggies. So load up on some of these summer food favorites including: watermelon, cucumbers, cantaloupe, tomatoes, strawberries, iceberg lettuce and pineapple.

Find Shade

Wear a hat, sunglasses and sit or walk in the shade whenever possible. Time spent in the shade allows your skin to repair itself and helps to avoid sunburn, which can intensify any existing aches and pains. People who struggle with headaches should avoid bright sunlight as much as possible. While just being out in the heat stresses your body, direct sun can cause sunburn and intensify pain. 

Mix Pain Cream with Sunscreen

We know the importance of protecting the skin from the sun by using sunscreen, but adding some pain cream before that sunscreen will help protect you from painful muscle spasms, which can occur even if you have never had them before, and especially if the body gets too warm and can’t cool itself fast enough. Effective pain relief creams can work quicker than oral pain medications, usually in a few minutes, and you can better target the pain relief by putting the cream exactly where you are feeling the pain. 

Topical pain relief creams have been so effective for my patients in both weather extremes, that I developed a formula called Instaflex Pain Relief Cream that can be applied directly on the affected joints or muscles, providing a first-line, instant pain defense for the body. This specific formula combines essential oxygenated oil with menthol to provide fast, targeted relief. Because it uses specially designed oils, less menthol is used, making it less harsh, but just as effective for pain.

One advantage to pain relief creams is that you can apply it more frequently than you can take an oral pain relief medication, where you would have to wait 6 to 8 hours between doses. Pills also take much longer to absorb in the body versus putting the pain relief cream directly on the affected joints or muscles, providing instant pain relief.

Medicine offers a variety of treatment options for pain, but not all options are suited for all people or all types of pain. Be sure to speak to your doctor about the right pain treatments for you and adjust your lifestyle and nutrition routines accordingly in extreme weather conditions.

Joseph Pergolizzi, Jr., MD, is a leading pain physician who combines the latest medical advances and scientific breakthroughs with a profound professional compassion for patients facing painful, life-altering conditions. He earned his BS in physical chemistry from St. John’s University and an MD with the highest honors from Ross University School of Medicine. He completed his residency in anesthesia at Georgetown University School of Medicine and a clinical research fellowship in the Department of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Pergolizzi is currently a senior partner at Naples Anesthesia and Pain Associates, Inc. Additionally, he works with Healthy Directions as an adviser and educator on natural solutions for pain management. As a physician, inventor, research scientist, and advocate for pain patients, Dr. Pergolizzi has authored over 350 peer-reviewed articles, abstracts, platform presentations, and book chapters.

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