Cold weather can worsen chronic pain! 9 quick ways to treat it

Many patients experience that their joint and muscle pain in winter season gets worse. Here are 6 causes of it and how to relieve chronic pain in cold weather.
View All Images pain in winter
Joint pain gets worse in winter season! Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Dr Swagatesh Bastia Updated: 9 Jan 2024, 02:05 pm IST
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Winter may be the most wonderful time of the year for many people, some might dread it! For people who experience chronic pain, a drop in temperature can make it more difficult for them. During winter, many people complain of heightened joint and muscle discomfort. This happens because exposure to cold temperature in winter can lead to muscle contraction, reduced flexibility, and heightened stiffness and tension in the musculoskeletal system, which results in pain in the body.

The Arthritis Foundation also states that cold temperature can increase pain sensitivity, reduce blood circulation, and trigger muscle spasms, leading to chronic pain in winter.

Why does chronic pain get worse in winter?

There are 6 key reasons why chronic pain gets worse in the winter:

1. Lower temperatures constrict blood vessels

As external temperatures drop, the body works overtime to maintain its core internal temperature. This causes blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood circulation. With less blood circulating through the body, oxygen and nutrients aren’t adequately transported to muscles and joints, which can affect the normal functioning of your body. This can lead to inflammation and stiffness, exacerbating existing pain conditions such as arthritis.

A woman feeling sad.
The low temperature in winter can cause backache as well. Image courtesy: Freepik

2. Shorter days disrupt sleep patterns

The shorter daylight hours of winter can disrupt a healthy sleep cycle. Many chronic pain patients complain of dealing with regular insomnia and fatigue. Lack of sleep increases the risk of pain sensitivity, making individuals more susceptible to experiencing heightened pain during the colder months.

3. Cold, wet weather aggravates arthritis

For those with arthritic conditions like osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, the cold, damp weather of winter can irritate joints and trigger immune responses. This leads to flare-ups causing swollen, tender joints and stabbing pains. Those with injuries to bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons may also find scar tissue and old wounds more bothersome.

4. Inactivity worsens muscle stiffness and weakness

The cold conditions make outdoor activities more difficult during the winter season. Being less active can cause muscles to tighten up and lose strength. Weak, stiff muscles then provide less support to surrounding joints, increasing strain and pain. The colder weather can also be demotivating, making it harder to convince one’s self to exercise.

5. Mood swings due to shorter days

Psychological factors also come into play. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression linked to seasonal changes, is more prevalent in winter. The emotional toll of SAD can heighten the perception of pain, creating a cyclical relationship between mental health and physical discomfort.

a sad woman
SAD can impact your mental health. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

6. Lack of sunlight increases pain

The lack of sunlight during winter also plays a role in worsening chronic pain. Sunlight exposure is crucial for the production of vitamin D, which is essential for maintaining bone health and reducing inflammation. Reduced sunlight exposure in winter can lead to lower vitamin D levels, potentially exacerbating pain symptoms in individuals with conditions like osteoarthritis or fibromyalgia.

Also read: 5 best vitamin D supplements you must try

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So, now you know that all physiological, environmental, and psychological factors play a role in the worsening of chronic pain in winter.

Quick home remedies for winter pain relief

1. Stay active with moderate exercise: Gentle motion exercises, stretches, and controlled strength training help mitigate stiffer muscles and joints. Even light walking or lifting small weights makes a difference.

Stretching exercises can relieve joint pain. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

2. Proper sleep hygiene: Establish a consistent sleep routine to promote better sleep quality, reducing pain sensitivity.
3. Up intake of anti-inflammatory foods: Food rich in anti-inflammatory properties can relieve pain. Berries, fatty fish, nuts, leafy greens, oatmeal, and olive oil are all packed with anti-inflammatory properties that can improve bone and joint health. Moreover, add vitamin C, K, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants to your diet.
4. Aromatherapy: Use essential oils like lavender or peppermint for aromatherapy, which can have a soothing effect on both the mind and body.
5. Apply warm compresses to painful areas: Simple heat application boosts blood flow to afflicted joints or muscles. The increased circulation transports more oxygen and nutrients crucial for cell repair and function.
6. Vitamin D supplements: Compensate for reduced sunlight exposure by taking vitamin D supplements to support bone health and alleviate pain.

vitamin D
You need even more vitamin D in winter. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

7. Practice relaxation techniques: Stress and anxiety increase the risk of pain by keeping muscles in a contracted state. Actively relaxing the body through light meditation or yoga cools down this tension.
8. Stay properly hydrated: Dehydration causes muscles to stiffen and spasm, leading to pain all over. Stay well-hydrated to keep joints lubricated and support overall health, reducing the impact of winter on pain.
9. Epsom salt bath: Soak in a warm bath with Epsom salt to relax muscles and ease joint pain associated with colder temperatures.

These remedies can be easily incorporated into a daily routine to provide relief from winter-related chronic pain at the comfort of your own home.

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About the Author

Dr. Swagatesh Bastia is a qualified medical professional with an MBBS and MS in orthopaedics, as well as a fellowship in pain management, trauma, and orthopaedics from the UK. Following the completion of his orthopaedics master's degree in Chennai, Dr. Bastia underwent training in endospine at AMRI Hospital, Bhubaneswar. He furthered his expertise at King’s College Hospital, London, focusing on regenerative medicine and rehabilitation for musculoskeletal disorders. It was during this period that the concept of establishing a comprehensive multidisciplinary pain clinic took shape in his mind. Dr. Bastia then accumulated valuable experience in pain management in both London and Hyderabad. ...Read More

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