By Mrs. Alofagia Oney (Regional Health Command Europe)December 12, 2018
When the weather turns cold and gloves and scarves become main accessories in every day apparel, some people seize the opportunity to hit the slopes or test out new compression jogging pants on a crisp morning run. Others, however, prefer to hibernate under a blanket or lock in a permanent position next to a cozy fire, avoiding the outdoors at all cost because their bodies simply do not function well for them in the cold.
"I have had countless patients [come to me] with exacerbations of symptoms related to weather," said Dr. Jeffrey Tiede, chief of the Department of Pain Management at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. "Nearly everyone believes that temperature, barometric pressure and humidity correlates with a number of painful conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia."
But what does the science say?
Human biometeorology studies the relationship between atmospheric conditions and people, and despite how a person's body may make him feel in the cold weather, the data regarding symptom exacerbation in relation to weather is mixed.
In 2013, a Dutch study was published called "Influence of Weather on Daily Symptoms of Pain and Fatigue in Female Patients with Fibromyalgia: A Multilevel Regression Analysis." As part of the study, the researchers surveyed symptoms of a group of patients with fibromyalgia and correlated them with independent data of temperature, barometric pressure, sunshine duration and other weather related factors. The authors concluded that no association exists between fibromyalgia symptoms and weather.
"Whether or not symptoms are heightened during cold weather, there is no conclusive evidence that temperature or barometric pressure change actually worsens the disease," said Tiede. "Simply put, although your knee pain may hurt worse in winter, nothing is different in the joint."
Tiede acknowledges that there is no conclusive explanation for why people may feel like their bodies hurt more in cold weather, but he does believe that seasonal affective disorder may be a factor.
"Seasonal affective disorder is a recurrent episode of depression, or hypermania, associated with seasonal onset and remission," said Tiede. "And even though a person may not meet the clinical criteria of seasonal affective disorder, it is quite likely that we all have a bit of the winter blues."
According to Tiede, the science correlating mood and pain is quite robust and depressed patients, or those with persistent mild depression, report higher pain scores and functional decline, or the decrease in a person's ability to engage in activities of daily living.
"For those of us living in Germany, we know it's not the brightest place during these long winter months," said Tiede. "However, proper diet, exercise, sleep patterns and being aware of how the cold weather impacts your mood can help mitigate some of the psychological factors that can add to your body pain."