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Does the weather affect chronic pain?

The weather has an impact on all of us – both mentally and physically – and many patients who suffer from chronic pain report that the change in weather makes their pain worse.

The term ‘chronic pain syndrome’ is an umbrella term used to define long-term pain which can arise from a variety of different sources. One of the most common triggers of chronic pain disorder is an injury, such as one caused by a road accident or fall, where the pain lingers after the initial physical damage has healed – with no obvious cause.

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In many cases of chronic pain syndrome, pain-relieving drugs are prescribed in order to manage the pain, however, this can cause some undesirable side effects for the patient, such as drowsiness, dizziness, or digestive problems. This forces many sufferers to turn to alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, reiki, and mindfulness techniques in order to alleviate the pain.

The weather has been thought to affect symptoms in patients with chronic disease since the time of Hippocrates over 2000 years ago. Yet despite much research, there is no scientific consensus. Many people report their pain is made worse by the cold, rain, and low atmospheric pressure. Others report that their pain is made worse by warmth and high humidity. Therefore each case needs to be treated alone, and what works for one person with chronic pain may not necessarily have the same positive impact on another person.

Joints contain sensory nerves that continuously respond to changing weather. Temperature and humidity can alter the level of fluid that fills your joints resulting in inflammation and pain and it can also affect the stiffness or laxity in your tendons, muscles, and ligaments.

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Scientists at Manchester University compiled a study that exposes a link between chronic pain and humid, windy days with low atmospheric pressure. The study included more than 13,000 people from all 124 of the UK’s postcode areas. The participants were predominantly people with arthritis, though some had other chronic pain-related conditions, such as fibromyalgia, migraine, or neuropathy, and the analysis showed that on damp and windy days with low pressure, the chances of experiencing more pain, compared to an average day, was around 20%.

With Spring in full bloom and warmer weather approaching, this can mean more frequent flare-ups for chronic pain sufferers. Chronic pain can be distressing and debilitating, overwhelming daily life and disrupting an individual’s ability to function on even the most basic level. Therefore knowing how the weather impacts you uniquely on your pain can enable you to accept that the pain is firstly out of your control, and secondly what to expect with changing weather.

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