How the Cold Weather Affects Chronic Pain: A Challenge to Move

With our recent nationwide decline in temps and unfathomably FRIGID weather, I started to do some research to answer some of my questions about how the cold weather affects our chronic pain. I found a surprising challenge in one of the answers: MOVE.

It is surprising that with all of the research that has been done over the years, there are still only theories of how the weather may affect various pain conditions. In 1996, the International Association for the Study of Pain did a review of several studies looking at the relationship between weather and pain. To this day, there is little evidence that can pinpoint specific weather changes to fluctuations in pain. My guess is that there are just too many factors related to pain, and the same goes for the weather. To try and show a cause and effect relationship within the limitations of research studies is a near impossible challenge. Despite this, chronic pain sufferers KNOW that there is a definite cause and effect relationship between climatologic changes and pain.

For a person with chronic pain, this weather just adds more obstacles to daily life. I need to be more even more mindful about how I’m spending my energy and planning my day. I need to make sure I’m practicing the tips that we talked about in the 5 Ways to Survive and Thrive in Cold Weather with Chronic Pain article. In doing my research, I also found an additional tip and challenge: MOVE.

When I say MOVE, I mean move my body. As in exercise and movement. Not actually move out of state. Although, that thought has crossed my mind. While doing my research, I found that there are also theories out there that an increase in pain during the cold weather could be related to a decrease in movement. The less we move our bodies, the more stiff we become. The more winter hibernation we do, the harder it becomes to crawl out of the cave, mentally and physically. So, this has become my challenge this winter (and for the year 2014): more movement, less stagnation. I would like to invite you into this challenge (as always, check with your health care team first before doing anything!). Here are some tips for you to increase your movement. Ready, set, go! 🙂

Gentle indoor movement There are many gentle movements that can help get the body and energy moving as well as calming down the central nervous system. Some of these activities would be: yoga, restorative yoga, stretching, walking meditation, T’ai Chi Chih and Qigong. Wellness practitioner Chris Endres has this free short video clip that includes many of the movements from T’ai Chi Chih and Qigong that are very simple and relaxing. You can also find some great short videos that are geared towards the senior population at Check them out because they’re gentle enough for those of us with chronic pain!
The Gym I am a member at a simple gym. It does not have a pool or classes, but it has equipment and massage chairs. I usually do the elliptical, bike, and walk on the treadmill. I also do what I can on the weight training machines which means staying inside my comfort zone of training that I know will NOT add to pain or injury. Working up a sweat is good for detoxing our body and also moving the lymphatic fluid around (not to mention those endorphins!). On the days when my pain is higher, I allow myself to just focus on easy and light movement (usually treadmill and bike). I do it for a shorter duration and will take breaks. When I am having a “normal” or “almost no pain” day, I can push myself a little harder knowing that I will not go too far to throw myself into a flareup. When I am in flareup mode, I take that day off and give myself permission to rest. At the same time, I make a plan to get myself moving again.
Warm Pool Visiting a warm therapeutic pool was a survival strategy for me during the first year after my chronic pain diagnosis. Our bodies just move better in the water. It allows us to perform gentle exercise that is not likely to cause injury. Sometimes I would imagine that I was on a Caribbean Island. I have fond memories of the pool. I met a lot of people who also struggle with pain on a daily basis and I learned a lot from them. Unfortunately, I developed a chemical sensitivity so the pool is no longer an option for me.
XC Ski or snowshoe Last year I decided that I’m better off getting outside for some of my exercise. Our bodies need fresh air, nature and sunshine. Even if it is the winter time. For me it was a bit easier as I used to be an avid cross country skier and I have skis. Last year was the first time I went out after my chronic pain diagnosis and I did okay considering I’d not been on skis for 3 years. I made sure I was on a trail that was short and mostly flat. I brought my Supportive Spouse with me in case of any falls or emergencies. The movement of our bodies while cross country skiing is similar to walking and can be very gentle. There are even adaptive skis that can be used for those that need a seated position. Snowshoeing is another option. Disabled Sports USA describes this in more detail.

Pain Camp is a safe place to share your thoughts, experience, strength and hope.What do you do to keep moving in the winter? 


  1. Jackie Fowler says:

    so i beg to differ with your urgings to move and get active as i know for myself and many others moving in cold month = long we get locked with pain. like the more i move the more i get stiff and more painful. so what do u say to that.

    just think moving is not the answer for 90% or so of chronic pain

    • Jackie Fowler says:

      i feel people will listen to your advice only to find them selves in emerge rooms. other then moving what ideas do u have to getting thru the pain of winter. cause this article sounds like one of my non pain relatives badgering me and such. i am taking offence to this tip

    • camperjen says:

      Hi Jackie, thanks for your feedback! I too have had been in your situation and worked with my doctors when I was at the pain rehabilitation center to find an exercise routine that worked for me. Each situation is individualized. You can read some other comfort ideas to manage pain through the winter months in this article. I’ve also been dragging a thermos of warm water around with me everywhere I go so that I can have hot/warm tea at my disposal. I hope that you’re able to find some pain relief!

  2. Thanks Jen! I am on board with you to get moving more, and keep moving, within our limits. I really like the idea of the sit/ski contraption for nordic skiing….I may just have to check that out!

  3. Shannon says:

    I have to pipe up and say that of course *anyone* should only exercise within their limits. People in pain especially. If you find yourself seized up, then go for a hot epsom salt bath. It always works for me.

    Epsom salt helps soothe muscle and nerve pain, you’d be amazed how soothing it can be. It also helps take toxins out of the body and leaves your skin soft – without an oily residue left in the tub!

    If not for epsom salt, I’d never have been able to continue working when I was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis (heel spurs). Unfortunately, I’m not able to get easily in/out of the tub these days, but a good foot soak is still doable lol.

    As for moving? Well I’m one of those who find that particularly difficult. The majority of my worst pain is in my chest (costochondritis). Which means even breathing hurts some days. More so, I cannot move my arms over my head or across my body without extreme pain. It makes exercising particularly difficult. Forget that there is simply no extra money to afford physio, massage or even chiropractic therapy.

    That said, I can do some yoga in a chair. My good friend Melissa West has several free yoga videos that you can check out on her youtube channel or her website. You can download her yoga for Fibromyalgia videos here ($15 USD)

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