Many people associate cold winter weather with a flare-up in back or joint pain, but what about summertime flare-ups? Studies have shown that many people with chronic pain conditions experience worsening symptoms during hot weather as well. Here’s why you may be experiencing more pain this summer and what you can do to feel better.
You may have heard the old cliche that dry weather is good for your joints. There is some factual basis for this. Humidity seems to worsen pain in many people with arthritis and other chronic pain conditions. Hot, humid climates can cause increased discomfort, especially if the forecast calls for storms. When a storm moves in, barometric pressure — air pressure in the atmosphere around us– changes. Changes in barometric pressure are associated with more headaches and increased muscle and joint pain.
Changing temperatures can cause tissues in joints to expand and contract, worsening existing pain. This is especially problematic if you live somewhere where temps go way up one day and down the next. Moving from the hot outdoors to air-conditioned indoors multiple times can also cause more pain.
Researchers know that pain tends to flare up during hot, humid summer days, but all the reasons for this are unknown. Many chronic pain conditions seem to be affected, including osteo and rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, Multiple Sclerosis, migraine and tension headaches, and aches from old injuries.
If you’ve noticed that you experience more pain in the summer, it’s not your imagination. You can’t change the weather, but there are some things you can do to reduce your symptoms.
The Importance of Being Hydrated
Humans are mostly made of water, and it’s essential to every process in our bodies, including muscle function and pain response. Water in our bodies works with minerals known as electrolytes to enable muscle contractions, transmit nerve signals, and build new tissue. Potassium, calcium, chloride, and sodium are examples of electrolytes. When people who feel they are low on electrolytes eat salt, they are replenishing their chloride and sodium levels. Since electrolytes dissolve in water, they can be lost when we lose fluids through sweat, vomiting, or diarrhea. Severe dehydration can cause symptoms of electrolyte deficiency. Drinking electrolyte water or a product like Pedialyte can help replace both fluids and electrolytes.
Severe dehydration is rare in healthy adults. It typically happens as a result of illness or excessive heat exposure. If you are working or playing in the heat, you can avoid dehydration and heat stroke by drinking eight ounces of water every 15-20 minutes. Don’t drink more than 48 oz per hour, as this can dilute your electrolytes. Most people won’t need sports drinks or salt tablets if they eat regular snacks and meals throughout the day. If you are working in extreme temperatures for prolonged periods, you should talk to your health care provider about using salt pills and sports drinks.
While the symptoms of severe dehydration are obvious and dangerous, mild dehydration often slips under the radar. It can be a sneaky cause of increased pain, muscle spasms, and fatigue. Hot, humid weather can increase your chances of being mildly dehydrated even if you aren’t working outside all day. By the time you feel thirsty, you are already slightly dehydrated. Many of us get busy and forget to drink water throughout the day. Setting a timer on your phone or watch for thirty-minute intervals and taking a few gulps of water whenever it goes off is an excellent way to ensure you get enough fluids. People who already suffer from chronic pain conditions are more prone to body aches, muscle spasms, and fatigue from mild to moderate dehydration.
How to Stay Cool
Staying in an air-conditioned environment is the best way to stop heat-related pain flare-ups. If cold also irritates your pain, make sure the thermostat is set at a temperature that doesn’t chill you too much. When you have to go out in the heat, keep sessions short. Too much time in hot temperatures can irritate pain and have an adverse effect on some anti-inflammatory medications.
Wear light, loose clothing when you are outdoors. Natural fibers like linen and cotton let your body breathe and keep you cooler than synthetic fibers like polyester. Wear a sun hat or carry an umbrella to mitigate your exposure to direct sunlight on hot days. If you feel fatigued or uncomfortable after spending time outside, rest in a cool place and drink plenty of fluids. Avoid caffeine and alcohol as these can dehydrate you and make you more sensitive to heat.
Ways to Relieve Heat-related Pain
Water aerobics and swimming can do wonders for chronic pain. Water activities are low impact– they won’t hurt your joints, but they can still get your heart rate up. Exercise is one of the best treatments for chronic pain because it encourages blood flow and releases endorphins (natural pain killers). Working out in the water can keep you from getting overheated (as long as you stay hydrated).
Ice can also help reduce pain and swelling. You can apply an ice pack for up to twenty minutes at a time to a painful area. If you feel pain throughout your body, try taking a cool shower.
Chiropractic care is beneficial for many types of chronic pain. Spinal adjustment corrects misalignments of the spinal cord and can help your body manage pain better. Old injuries that still flare up in reaction to the weather can be treated with K-laser therapy, a non-invasive treatment that stimulates the body to complete the healing process.
At Stanlick Chiropractic, we’ve been providing chronic pain treatment in Tennessee for nearly twenty years. We know the heat and humidity can cause painful flare-ups during a time when you want to be at your most active. You don’t have to spend your summer struggling with chronic pain. Chiropractic care can help you get back to living the life you love.