Many fibromyalgia sufferers report weather changes as one of the top causes of symptom flare-ups, especially muscle pain and stiffness. Interestingly, while many people with fibromyalgia report worsening of symptoms during cold weather, other fibro patients respond worse to heat. However, the validity of this claim is still up in the air, according to doctors and researchers. The connection between weather changes and fibromyalgia symptoms has been proven and disproven by multiple studies over the years—at this point, most doctors believe that reports of symptom flares as a result of weather are “all in your head.”
Until recently, most doctors thought fibromyalgia itself was “all in your head” (and, unfortunately, some still do). Once the disease became popularly accepted, studies were performed in greater numbers—most of them reinforcing the fact that fibromyalgia is a real condition. Perhaps there will be a similar progression of acceptance and evidence of the connection between fibro symptoms and weather changes? We can only hope.
Let's discuss a few reasons why your fibro pain might be worse due to weather conditions, and I’ll provide a few strategies for coping with—or even avoiding—weather-related flares.
Possible Explanations- Why The Weather Affects Fibromyalgia Symptoms
Cold weather and muscle pain
Since fibromyalgia causes severe muscle pain, adding more muscle pain will obviously make your symptoms worse—and cold weather can do just that. How? First, when you’re cold, your muscles tend to constrict and cramp or spasm (shivering!) in an effort to warm your body. These cramps and spasms can cause muscle pain—especially in people suffering from fibromyalgia. If you have persistent or chronic pain in your muscles, then cold weather doesn't just cause short-lived muscle aches; instead, it adds to or sets off severe fibro pain.
Additionally, cold weather is usually accompanied by a drop in barometric pressure. When the air pressure decreases, the fluid and soft tissue surrounding your joints—usually held in place by outside pressure—are allowed to expand. As they expand, this fluid and soft tissue press directly against your joints, causing joint pain and even related muscle pain. As described above, the resulting pain is generally much worse in fibro (and arthritis) sufferers.
According to Lynne Matallana, founder and president of the National Fibromyalgia Association, fibromyalgia patients aren’t able to adjust as easily to temperature changes as non-sufferers, or to sufficiently regulate their body temperature. This difficulty regulating body temperature to can lead to problems in hot weather, because people with fibromyalgia aren’t able to sweat as much or as easily as others. If you don’t sweat enough, your body temperature can rise to a dangerous degree, causing severe muscle pain (and other issues).
Additionally, fibromyalgia is often associated with sleep disorders: specifically, difficulty getting quality, restful sleep (or difficulty sleeping at all). Naturally, this symptom can make other symptoms, such as pain and fatigue, even worse. In hot weather, it’s difficult for anyone to sleep: so, if hot weather worsens your fibro-related sleeping problem, this might help explain increased pain.
The effect of increased nerve fibers
According to a 2013 study, people suffering from fibromyalgia have significantly increased numbers of sensory nerve fibers (often responsible for sending pain signals to the brain) in the blood vessels of the palms of their hands. Though this finding isn’t fully understood, it does offer a possible explanation for fibro pain that’s increased by cold weather. In warm temperatures, these blood vessels are less active, as they don’t have to work to warm up the body. In cold weather, though, their activity increases significantly; this means that their nerve fibers signal much more frequently, possibly causing increased pain in those people who already have an abnormally high number of nerve fibers.
Another possibility is that extra nerve fibers cause blood vessels in the hand to interfere with overall blood flow throughout the body. If your muscles don’t get enough fresh, oxygen-rich blood, or can’t get rid of old blood fast enough, this can cause severe muscle pain. Again, these hypotheses haven’t been confirmed, but they do offer exciting possibilities for further research and eventual prevention.
Coping mechanisms- How to Minimize The Weather's Affect On Fibromyalgia
Many of these tips may seem obvious, but they’re important to remember: if you prepare yourself for weather changes, you might even be able to avoid your usual symptom flares.
If cold weather usually increases your pain, this probably means you’re dealing with extra tight or cramped muscles. To help or even avoid these symptoms, your goal is to do everything you can to keep your muscles loose and relaxed. Taking long hot showers or baths, or even wearing heat packs throughout the day, can significantly help relax your muscles. Yoga can also stretch your muscles and improve circulation—remember, your circulation helps regulate your body temperature and is generally compromised in people with fibromyalgia.
There are also indirect ways in which cold weather can increase your symptoms. Fibromyalgia patients have many nutrient deficiencies, including vitamin D—and, if you’re staying inside more often during the cold winter months, you’re getting even less vitamin D than usual. This means that taking a vitamin D supplement might help your symptoms—especially during the winter, but also throughout the rest of the year. (This is true of the other supplements mentioned by the University of Maryland Medical Center as well, such as alpha lipoic acid and malic acid.
Additionally, cold, dark months can cause or increase depression. While fibromyalgia is not caused by depression, the two conditions are related, and increased depression can increase your other symptoms as well. To help with seasonal depression, you can buy a special light box meant to help symptoms of SAD (seasonal affective disorder).
For hot weather
If hot weather tends to worsen your symptoms, this means you’re dealing with high body temperatures and possibly dehydration. In this case, try to stay as cool as possible through other means: stay in air-conditioned buildings when possible; take cold showers, go swimming, and wear cold packs or cool, damp cloths; and be sure to drink plenty of cool water.
Though you can’t change the weather, you can change your responses to it. Additionally, taking vitamins and supplements to correct for nutrient deficiencies can help your symptoms all year round—this improves your chances of avoiding symptom flares, no matter the weather.
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