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10 Ways to Conquer Chronic Pain in Wintertime

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This week, thousands of Americans are facing bitterly cold temperatures which for many exacerbate symptoms of their chronic medical conditions.

If you’re in the disabled community, wintertime can be a harsh, bitter reminder of how much pain our chronic conditions can cause. While snow and icicles may be stunning for a little while, the reality is that this time of year is the season for often uncontrollable bouts of agony and a whole host of other symptoms that come along for the ride.

There’s science behind this. According to Northwestern Medicine, whenever the temperature drops outside, the body focuses its energies on conserving heat in order to protect its internal organs. With the blood flow concentrating in the heart, stomach and lungs, joints don’t receive the levels of lubrication and warmth they’re used to. This manifests in all different fluctuations in pain levels and more.

For those with joint-specific conditions, arthritis often flares with temperature changes. Barometric pressure drops during storm activity, also causing blood flow to be restricted which can cause migraines and make the movement of joints stiff and agonizing. The internal issues may also begin to expand outward and push down on sensitive nerve endings.

Seasonal affective disorder or SAD is a mental illness that impacts about 6% of the U.S. population. It’s brought on by a lack of sunlight. In winter, the sun is only fully out for a few hours (or even less in other areas of the world), making our homes stay darker and colder for more extended periods.

Immune systems often weaken significantly in colder temperatures, which causes many to get sick with a variety of viral infections. Because of COVID-19, there’s an even stronger need for precautionary measures.

Dips in temperature manifest outdoors in physical ways, so if it’s necessary for you to go out and about, ice and snow can morph into hazardous obstacles instead of a beautiful stunt of nature.

How does one combat this aggressive cold? Each person’s experience is different, but it’s my hope that if you’re hurting this season, some of these tips will be helpful for you!

1)    Warm tea/coffee – Tea has a variety of health benefits, but its warmth during the winter months can help warm up your internal organs and continue blood flow to the rest of the body. As far as coffee, caffeine can aid with muscle cramps and headaches.

2)    Comfort films – Re-watching films you grew up with can soothe the mind and allow for added relaxation.

3)    Fuzzy socks – Extremities can get extraordinarily cold, especially depending on the kind of flooring you have in your house. If you invest in a warm fair of fuzzy socks with grips on the bottom, you’ll be safe and comfy.

4)    Hot showers and baths – This can get difficult depending on your condition as some can be aggravated by too-hot water, but submerging yourself in some form of water can be incredibly therapeutic, with or without Epsom salts included.

5)    Heavy blankets – When you sleep or recline in relaxation, the body tends to cool. Wrap up warm before bed and naps in order to keep your temperature regulated. A heating pad can also help.

6)    Refill your prescriptions – In times of crisis, we often forget the necessary things that help keep us functioning. If the weather service is calling for winter storm warnings, make sure to pick up your prescriptions.

7)    Eat well – This probably goes without saying, but if your body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs, it will be harder for it to process all the necessary functions for living. Make sure you’re getting daily, balanced meals.

8)    Playing video games – If you have interest or access to playing video games, they can often be a welcome distraction. It’s easy to get lost in gameplay and find yourself not having to listen to throbbing pain.

9)   Medical or recreational marijuana — If legal in your area, consider consuming marijuana. Certain strains work well for pain relief. According to Doctors of Cannabis, a few of these strains that can be accessed at your closest dispensary are called Sour Diesel, White Widow, Northern Lights, Master Kush, Cataract Kush, and more.

10)  Gentle exercise – While some disabilities can seriously impact movement abilities. If you are able, doing some gentle stretching, very light weight lifting and slow walking on a treadmill or even around your apartment can really pay off, in the long run, and keep the muscles healthy and not too stationary for long periods of time.

If you’re having trouble coping with winter pain, I hope you found this list helpful. Stay healthy and stay warm.

Getty image by Fotyma.

Originally published: February 19, 2021
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