While science may not have an exact reason for why pain worsens in the heat, it cannot be ignored. Many patients who suffer from chronic pain report that the change in weather makes their pain worse. Bad weather, such as cold and rainy days, are often associated with pain, but hot and humid summer days are actually worse for chronic pain.
How Does Barometric Pressure Affect Chronic Pain?
Barometric pressure, also called air pressure, is the weight of the air in the atmosphere. It changes depending on the weather: low pressure means a storm is eminent and high pressure indicates a clear day. Medical theories suggest that a drop in pressure means there is an increased amount of pressure on the joints. However, heat and humidity affects inflamed tissue and affects the way joints expand and contract.
Heat and Common Chronic Pain Conditions
Many chronic pain conditions are affected by the heat and humidity during the summer months.
- Arthritis. A study shows that nearly 5% older people with osteoarthritis reported hot weather influences their joint pain. People with inflammatory arthritis experience pain when the temperature changes and humidity increases because it affects the way joint tissue expands and contracts, therefore triggering pain.
- 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 headaches.
- Fibromyalgia. The National Fibromyalgia Association links weather and fibromyalgia symptoms when the weather is humid. People who suffer from rheumatological conditions have “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 recognized symptom of MS, it plays a huge role in this chronic neurological disease. Anything that raises the body’s temperature can worsen MS symptoms. This means a hot summer day can make the pain worse and it is so common, that there’s even a name for this: Uhthoff Syndrome. However, once a person cools down, the symptoms typically go away.
How to Deal With the Heat
If you experience pain during the summertime, here are some tips to beat the heat and reduce your pain:
- Stay Indoors: If the humidity and extreme heat causes flare ups in your pain, spending time in an air-conditioned area will help regulate your body temperature. Too much time outside can affect your joints and make your anti-inflammatory medication less effective.
- Drink Water: Drinking water and staying hydrated to maintain electrolyte levels and fluids is crucial to avoiding pain that comes from dehydration.
- Wear Loose Clothing: Wearing linen or light cotton clothing keeps your body cool by allowing it to breath. Tight clothes or heavy fabrics do not allow sweat to evaporate or keep your body cool.
- Swim: Swimming is a great way to alleviate joint pain and to cool off in the summer months. Low-impact cardio like water exercises are great for those who have arthritis or chronic joint pain.