As we’ve officially transitioned into the summer season it’s safe to say that we will soon be experiencing our share of hot and humid days. Many of us are eager to get out and enjoy the warmer temperatures after such a long winter. However, for those dealing with persistent or chronic pain, the heat and humidity we experience throughout the summer can pose a new set of challenges. Although there is not much in the way of scientific evidence outlining the impact weather can have on chronic pain specifically, some studies have found that individuals with arthritis do experience elevated levels of pain and distress when changes in temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure occur.
Personally, I have had a number of clients that can confirm this claim – extreme temperatures impact their pain. Now, the impact does vary between individuals, and not all people experience negative effects in the heat, but there are definitely some physiological changes occurring in the body you may not be aware of.
First, changes in air temperature and moisture can cause the levels of synovial fluid in our joints to decrease. Synovial fluid is a thick liquid that helps to lubricate the joints and allows for ease of movement. It also helps to decrease pain and inflammation in the joints, so changes in fluid levels can sometimes lead to painful flare-ups. Second, high heat and humidity can also lead to increases in ozone in the environment. Increases in ozone can also cause additional distress and pain for those dealing with chronic pain conditions.
Although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact mechanisms that drive this heat-pain relationship, we know that properly modifying our pain management strategies is crucial in keeping comfortable. Here are some tips on beating the heat and keeping your chronic pain levels at bay.
On days of extreme heat and humidity, your best bet in avoiding painful flare-ups is to stay inside. Try to keep the air inside your home cool and make sure your air conditioner is in good working order. Use a dehumidifier to reduce the amount of humidity in the air as well. Close your curtains and blinds to keep unwanted heat from entering the home.
Plan Your Activities
If you do have to be outside, make sure to plan your day and activities accordingly. Try and take care of any physical tasks in the early morning or after the sun sets to avoid the most intense temperatures. Daily temperatures usually peak around the noon hour, so try to avoid being outside at this time. Pace your physical activities and take multiple breaks to avoid overexertion. Try to find a nice place to cool down following longer bouts of activity.
Make sure that you drink plenty of water on hot and humid days. Try to avoid sugary drinks, coffee, fruit juices, and alcohol, as they can actually lead to dehydration in the body. Drinking adequate amounts of water can help reduce inflammation in the body and keeps the muscles limber. There are also a number of foods high in water content that can help keep us hydrated. Try incorporating foods like fresh watermelon, celery, strawberries, melons, grapes, cucumber, and zucchini into your diet.
Wear Proper Clothing
Make sure that you dress for the weather to avoid over-heating. Wear breathable fabrics like cotton or silk or invest in clothing made with moisture-wicking materials. Be sure that your clothes are not too tight or constricting and try to wearing comfortable, looser fitting clothes to keep cool. It is also smart to wear white or light colours that reflect light in the intense heat. Wear a wide brimmed hat and sunscreen to avoid burns as well.
Find a Body of Water
Take advantage of that backyard pool or hit a local lake for a cool down in the water. Be mindful of your pain condition and make sure to have adequate seating and shade if at the beach. If you’re feeling able, completing some light movements or stretches in the water can be a great way to loosen stiff musculature that may be causing you pain. Cold showers, misting fans, or the use of cold packs can be a great alternative if there is no pool or water in your region.
Use Cooling Agents
Apply creams that include peppermint or make your own spray using peppermint oil and water. The menthol found in peppermint has been shown to be a powerful cooling agent. Applying Aloe vera can also be a nice way to cool our skin, especially after prolonged sun exposure or if suffering from a sun burn.
Monitor the Air Quality
Take a peek at the Air Quality Index if you are out and about on a hot day. Studies have shown that higher levels of air pollution can actually cause inflammation to increase in the body. This inflammation not only exacerbates pain from sore muscles and joints, but can also lead to breathing issues, headaches, and increased blood pressure, which will ultimately affect your pain levels in the end.