Summer and Chronic Pain: Beat the Heat

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If you suffer from chronic pain and you’ve noticed days where it seems better or worse without an obvious explanation, weather could be the culprit. Many chronic conditions actually worsen due to hot, humid weather. With summer in full swing, we’ve got helpful tips so you can beat the heat.

How does the weather trigger pain?

There are a few different schools of thought about how hot and humid weather can make chronic pain symptoms worse. One theory is that hot weather tends to make us dehydrated more easily, and a lack of fluids can trigger pain symptoms. Remember, the joint cartilage and the discs in your spine have high water content, so when you lose fluids, it impacts everything in your body.

According to Metropolitan Pain Consultants, a decrease in the concentration of fluid in the joints can agitate existing pain conditions like arthritis. Heat and humidity also makes us sweat more, so we lose fluids that way too.

In fact, according to Spine Health, “Many people report that heat, humidity, or even barometric pressure makes a difference in their pain levels—for better or for worse.” Other chronic pain issues like sciatic nerve pain can worsen in hot weather too.

Handling high humidity 

For people who suffer from pain due to inflammation, the humidity alone can make symptoms worse. If it’s hot and humid outside, the scientific theory is the low pressure system in the atmosphere can cause pain symptoms get worse.

According to an article in Huffington Post, “Our joints contain sensory nerves called baroreceptors, which respond to changes in the weather. When the weather changes, the air pressure changes, and the body responds accordingly.”

High humidity levels can also thicken your blood, which makes your heart work just a bit harder. That’s when the baroreceptors kick in to help your central nervous system regulate the resistance of blood vessels and the heart’s contractions. “However, for those who already have muscle or joint pain, expansion in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments can irritate the already-sensitive areas.”

Monitor your physical activities

Depending on where you live, summertime can be fun sunny days that beg you to come outside and play, or they can be long, hot, humid days where you just want to stay indoors in the air-conditioning. Both of these situations can lead to increased pain — whether it’s too much physical activity or too little.

Sometimes it’s just hard to monitor how much physical activity you’re doing — or not doing! — while on vacation. If your activity level increases, be mindful not to overdo it and make sure to follow your recommended stretching routine to stay limber. If road-tripping is in your plans, be aware of how you sit, because sitting for long periods of time can aggravate all sorts of chronic back conditions.

On the flip side, if your activity level decreases, try to find ways to keep exercising. Swimming and walking are always good options in hot weather and they’re both low impact. Just remember to hydrate, because drinking water is the best way to restore your fluid levels and stay one step ahead of your pain.

How are you beating the heat with chronic pain? Share your tips with us in the comments section!

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