For most people, summertime means warmer temperatures, spending more time outdoors, and enjoying every last bit of the day until the late evening. However, for people with chronic pain, summertime isn’t always a warm welcome. All of the things that many people enjoy doing in the warmer months can lead to quite a bit of pain for those living with a chronic condition. In this article, we’ll examine how you can make the best of summertime with chronic pain, and how you can make the most of the dog days while avoiding flare-ups.
Why Summertime With Chronic Pain Can Be Difficult
While the exact science behind why some people experience chronic pain more during the summertime may not be exact, those who are affected are quick to point out the connection. Many people who live with chronic pain report that their pain worsens with weather changes. Inclimate weather, specifically cold or rainy days, is what many people think of when they picture weather and chronic pain. However, hot and humid summer days are actually worse for chronic pain.
Barometric pressure, also known as air pressure, is the weight of the air in the atmosphere. This pressure changes depending on the weather: low pressure means a storm is likely coming and high pressure usually means there’s a clear day ahead. There are many theories as to how barometric pressure affects chronic pain.
Some experts believe that a drop in pressure means there is an increased amount of pressure on the joints. Heat and humidity have also been known to cause inflammation and affect how the joints expand and contract.
It’s not just the direct impact on chronic pain that can make summertime difficult for those living with chronic conditions. Hot weather puts added stress on our bodies, no matter how healthy or able-bodied. Heat exhaustion, excessive sweating, sunburns, and the glare from bright lights can all make venturing outside that much more difficult for people with chronic pain.
Not all chronic conditions are affected by warmer weather. Furthermore, those that are may not be affected equally and can vary from person to person. Next, we’ll look at some of the more common conditions that people with chronic pain report worsening during summertime.
Conditions That May Be Affected by Warmer Weather
Many chronic pain conditions are affected by the heat and humidity during the summer months. These conditions can be affected by the heat, humidity, the sun, and the added stress the hotter weather can put on your body. Below are some of the most common chronic conditions that can be affected by warmer weather.
- Arthritis: Studies have shown that nearly five percent of older people with osteoarthritis reported hot weather influences their joint pain. People with inflammatory arthritis also report experiencing pain when temperatures begin to rise, as well as when levels of humidity increase.
- Headaches & Migraines: Temperature changes trigger tension-type headaches and migraines. The fluctuation in temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure during warmer months can lead to dehydration, which commonly triggers migraines and headaches.
- Fibromyalgia: According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, changes in weather and humidity can worsen symptoms. They also add that rheumatological conditions are commonly accompanied by “temperature sensitivity,” meaning any extreme temperatures (both hot and cold) can have worsening symptoms and heightened pain.
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS): While pain has not always been a clear symptom of MS, experts agree that it plays a major role in this rare neurological disease. Anything that causes drastic changes in the body’s internal temperature can worsen MS symptoms. This means that a hot summer day can make pain worse for someone living with MS.
So, how can you make the best of summertime with chronic pain? Let’s talk about it.
Making the Most of Summertime With Chronic Pain
Here are some tips on how you can make the most of your favorite summertime activities with chronic pain, while also avoiding flare-ups.
Summertime isn’t just a time to go for a bike ride, spend time at the beach, or take the dog for a stroll around the park, although those are all great ways to soak up the sun. Summertime is also great for those of us who love to garden. However, those who have hip, knee, neck, and spine pain can particularly struggle in the garden, even if it’s something that brings you joy throughout the summer.
The continued bending, twisting, and squatting that typically accompanies gardening can put a lot of strain on your joints, muscles, and nerves. An easy way to avoid this is to opt for a raised bed garden, preferably one that allows you to avoid bending over. Knee pads are also a great option should you choose to stick to ground gardening. Other simple tips to avoid aggravating pain while gardening includes using proper lifting techniques, taking frequent breaks, and avoiding spending prolonged hours kneeling or bending over.
Hiking may not be for everyone, especially those that live with chronic pain. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a summertime trek in the woods, you simply need to take a few added precautions.
For people with chronic pain, carrying heavy backpacks and equipment for prolonged periods is something to avoid,” says anesthesiology and pain management specialist Alexandra Lelchuk, MD of Aurora Health Care. This means opting for lightweight gear, and to limit what you bring with you.
Stretching before and after you do any strenuous activity is a great way to strengthen your muscles, avoid injuries, and work on improving your flexibility and range of motion. Other items you may find to help you tackle pain while hiking includes knee braces, walking sticks, and a good, supportive pair of hiking boots.
Swimming may be one of the quintessential parts of summer. Whether it’s at the beach, a lake, or in the comfort of your own backyard pool, swimming is not only a great way to enjoy the warmer weather, but it’s also one of the best activities you can do if you have chronic pain.
There are many benefits of water exercises, or simply swimming, for chronic pain. Water exercises are a great workout option because they provide a non- or very-low-impact option for working out. For those with hip, knee, or leg pain, swimming can allow your body to relieve pain and strengthen muscles, all without causing further pain or discomfort.
With that being said, there are still precautions to take when swimming if you have chronic pain. Poor swimming technique can exacerbate chronic shoulder conditions as well as low back and neck pain. If you’re deciding to go for a swim this summer, and you have chronic pain, it’s important to make sure your form will not aggravate your pain.
For many people, running may seem like a simple task. It’s just faster walking, right? That may be the case for some, but for those with chronic pain, the high-impact nature of running can be extremely tough on their joints. If you’re someone who is living with chronic pain, and you’d like to spend some time running this summer, it’s extremely important to take the necessary steps before doing so.
Stretching, staying hydrated, and wearing the right shoes can make all the difference when it comes to avoiding joint pain and discomfort while running. Consider talking to a footwear specialist at a running store or other athletics outlet before getting started. Additionally, if possible, avoid running on hard surfaces such as asphalt or concrete, and try sticking to softer surfaces like a public track or a treadmill.
Lastly, be sure to listen to your body and back off if you’re in a lot of pain.
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