Chronic Pain in Summer: How to Manage in the Heat
Long, hot summer days aren’t warmly received by everyone. For those of us who live with chronic pain, blue skies, humid days and sunshine may be a recipe for worsened symptoms…
If you’ve noticed worsening joint, leg or back pain in summer, you’re not alone. There are lots of reasons why aches and pains, varicose veins, rheumatoid arthritis and many other chronic pain conditions can feel worse during warmer months. Fortunately, there are also plenty of things you can try to ease discomfort, so you can make the most of Great British Summer (when the sun chooses to shine).
Why Does Chronic Pain Get Worse in Summer?
Everybody’s experience of pain is different. For some of us, summer might mean relief from chronic pain symptoms. For others, warm weather can make everything worse.
Researchers at the University of Manchester recently undertook a project titled “Cloudy with a Chance of Pain”. The project asked 13,000 UK residents to upload a daily pain rating. Their pain severity was then looked at next to their region’s weather conditions. The findings? There are a number of weather types that seem to be related to increased pain: particularly humid weather, low atmospheric pressure and high winds.
But what about the heat? Whether you experience leg pain in the summer, or increased summer muscle pain, the hot weather factors affecting your condition will vary and are often unique to you, your body and your lifestyle. There are some common summer problems, however, which affect those of us who experience more severe chronic pain in the summertime.
Before we explore some of the common causes of increased pain during summer, here’s a quick reminder to always consult your doctor if you notice unexpected changes in your pain level or physical condition.
Temperature and humidity changes
You might have noticed that your pain gets worse in both summer heat and winter chills. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Rheumatology found that both high and low temperatures and humidity are associated with changes in joint pain. Why does this happen? So far, there is little evidence to explain why temperature and humidity appears to affect pain symptoms. However, there are plenty of theories.
One suggestion is that it’s all down to the expansion and contraction of our veins and other tissues in response to changing temperatures. In hot weather, our veins dilate (get bigger), helping to regulate our body temperature by moving more of our blood to just below the surface of our skin, where it can cool down.
This can mean lots of internal change for people with pain conditions. For example, in individuals with venous insufficiency (which causes chronic leg pain), blood already has difficulty returning back to the heart from the legs. When increased heat tells the body to send blood away from its core, the condition can worsen, becoming especially painful and causing swelling.
Beat the heat: Keeping cool could help you reduce the pain-increasing effects of heat and humidity on your body. This may mean staying inside and resting, if possible, during the hottest part of the day. Wearing cool clothes and setting up effective air conditioning may also help.
If you suffer from a condition such as venous insufficiency, elevating your legs and resting frequently may also help reduce your summer leg pain. It is important, however, to exercise regularly in order to increase blood flow back to your heart. To exercise without overheating, consider cooler exercise options such as visiting a local outdoor pool for an early morning dip, or taking a late evening walk.
Do you find it hard to stay cool and sleep on hot, sticky nights? You’re in good company. A 2012 study suggested that hot temperatures are one of the biggest culprits when it comes to disturbed sleep. Unfortunately, poor sleep has also been linked to increased pain severity for those with chronic pain. Read our post on chronic pain and sleep deprivation to find out more.
Beat the heat: This BBC article is full of helpful ideas for better sleep on hot nights, including using thin sheets, sticking to your normal bedtime routine and staying hydrated. You might also want to invest in a fan and swap your “birthday suit” for light cotton pyjamas which wick sweat away from your skin, keeping you more comfortable in the heat.
Don’t call us killjoys, but there are lots of seasonal activities that can worsen back pain in summer, along with other chronic pain conditions. In the summertime, many of us have more active lifestyles; from getting outdoors for a spot of gardening, to frolicking with friends and family.
All this fun may be good for the soul, but it isn’t always good news for the body. Standing for long periods at BBQs (beer in hand), sitting on blankets at picnics, taking long walks along the beach; all of these sunny afternoon pleasures can exacerbate summer joint pain, along with other chronic pain conditions.
Beat the heat: Don’t let chronic pain put your hot weather plans on ice. Plan ahead and invest in equipment that will help you make the most of hot weather fun, without exacerbating summer joint or muscle pain. This may mean purchasing a sturdy fold-out chair which provides you with appropriate support at BBQs, al fresco concerts, picnics and other outdoor events.
If your activity levels are likely to increase, you should also consider your footwear. While being barefoot on the sand is a wonderful feeling, it may be wiser to choose trainers which provide adequate support for your back, knees, legs or other pain-affected areas. Appropriate “summer adventure” footwear will also reduce the risk of accidents and injuries, helping your body to stay as comfortable as possible during the summer.
Planning a more active summer? To Better Day’s active patches are packed with vitamin D and dextrose that work together to improve the health of joints and muscles.
Applied directly to your skin, our transdermal patches can be used by people with chronic pain to regain their get-up-and-go. Small patches are the perfect fit for those with summer joint pain in areas such as ankles, knees wrists. Large patches are just the right size for backs, shoulders, lower legs and thighs.
How do you beat the heat?
Do you experience worsened back, joint or leg pain in the summer? What weather type is worst for your chronic pain? Do you have the perfect recipe for a peaceful “hot summer night” sleep? We would love for you to share your heat-busting pain tips with others who experience chronic pain in the summer.