Ouch... It's Cold Outside

by Christina Lasich, MD Health Professional

Brrrrr. Bundle up baby because it's cold outside. OUCH Now, everything seems to hurt worse. Wintertime is here and that usually means that chronic painful conditions get more intense and more widespread. In fact, some people need different doses of pain medications in the cold months than in the warm months. Why is pain worse in the winter? Several reasons explain this phenomenon. First of all, the nerves become more sensitive in the cold. Nerve conduction velocity slows with colder limb temperatures. With the slower responses, pre-existing nerve damage is accentuated; hence, a hallmark of nerve pain is cold sensitivity. A second reason that painful conditions feel worse in the winter is the muscle and ligament stiffness that results from lower temperatures. With less pliable soft tissues, arthritic joints become more painful. Lastly, the muscles themselves tend to tighten and spasm more in the cold probably as a protective mechanism. All in all, the cold weather leads to more pain, more medication use, and more people heading south for the winter. If you cannot head south, what can you do to combat the "Ouch" of coldness?

  • 1. Wear a scarf and hat: A scarf and hat prevent a lot of heat from escaping the body. Especially people with neck pain should wear scarves more often.

  • 2. Wear gloves: Gloves are often overlooked therapy devices for arthritic hands, but can be very effective at reducing hand pain.

  • 3. Wear leggings: Leggings made of silk or synthetic material can really keep your legs warm. Those with neuropathy could really benefit from warmer legs to keep those damaged nerves working smoothly and with less Ouchy.

  • 4. Use a heating pad: Most people have a heating pad tucked away in a dark closet. Time to dust it off and turn it on. But, do not leave it on too long or you can burn yourself. Some heating pads have timers as a safety device. As helpful as this device is, it is amazing how many people forget to use a heating pad.

  • 5. Use a microwavable warmer: Small pillows filled with rice or buckwheat are available or makeable. Just heat in the microwave and apply directly to the painful area. Sounds like a good Christmas gift.

  • 6. Try warm water: A warm bath, a warm hot tub, a warm sauna, a warm water pool; all things with warm water can be very soothing to cold muscles, joints, and you.

  • 7. Try Alpaca Socks: Once you try the superior insulating value of Alpaca wool, you will never go back. Do you have foot pain, neuropathy pain or cold, numb feet? A pair of warm socks can be part of your cold weather pain survival kit.

  • 8. Cuddle: The Eskimo's use dogs to stay warm. Tonight might be a three dog night.

Without a ticket south, you need a cold weather strategy to stay warm with less pain this winter. Keeping the muscles, nerves and ligaments warm is a battle worth winning. Share your winning strategy and don't let winter get the best of you. Enjoy the season.

Christina Lasich, MD
Meet Our Writer
Christina Lasich, MD

Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.