Blame It On The Weather

 
Image Credit: ©Kathy James & © Kelsey Rein

Image Credit: ©Kathy James & ©Kelsey Rein

It's a fabulous sunny day here in beautiful British Columbia, Canada, and I'm feeling in pretty good spirits because it's a low pain day for me.  

For this week's blog post I thought I would share some of the insights I've gained from my own experience with Central Pain Syndrome.

 

Pain dominates every aspect of my life. I am still pretty much able to successfully navigate most days. There are even days where my pain level is so low that I'm overtaken with a sense of glee at the prospect that I'm cured, lol. Then I'm brought crashing back down to earth with a pain flare that consumes every aspect of my being - I find it hard to think straight, walk straight, balance, or string a sentence together.

Does this sound familiar?

Pain when it’s chronic is not simple, there are many layers. It took me a couple of years living with Central Pain Syndrome to understand this.

Let me explain

I believed cold weather was the primary trigger for my pain. Cold, wind and rain, bring intense pain flares. So last November I plotted my escape to warmer, drier climes. I trialled what it would be like to become a snowbird, I spent a month in Palm Springs. I'm not going to lie, it was fabulous. But I encountered a couple of problems getting there, going up in the plane and coming down in the plane. It was so very painful. My experience of pain is the most searing burning sensation in the left side of the tri-geminal area of my face,  left orbital pain, left hand fingers, and left arm.

 
Image Credit: © Kathy James

Image Credit: © Kathy James

 

I came back from the dessert to rainy, cold weather. In Vancouver it’s very rainy - when the sun shines, it’s "Gods' country", oh but when it rains ...."she's like a pretty girl with a very bad temper".

That's when I realized

Just like the time I experienced pain on my flight to Palm Springs (due to change in cabin pressure), I was noticing that my pain levels rise in advance of a weather change. To be more precise, when a fall in barometric pressure is imminent.

There’s even a word for it - weather changes accompanied by decreases in barometric pressure are suggested to trigger meteoropathy, i.e., weather-related pain.

Let me walk you through how the body senses changes in barometric pressure, with an explanation from Hilary North, a biomedical researcher with a PhD. in neuroscience.

"Unlike the other senses of sight, sound, taste, and smell, touch is not linked to one distinct organ. Touch is experienced all over the body, inside and out. There are tiny receptors, or nerve endings, all over the body that sense touch wherever it occurs and send signals to the brain with information about what kind of touch has been felt.

 Just as a taste bud on the tongue detects a taste, mechanoreceptors are receptors in the skin and on other organs that detect sensations of touch. They are called mechanoreceptors because they are designed to detect mechanical sensations or differences in pressure".

I suffered a stroke in my thalamus, the region of the brain that is among other functions responsible for the relaying of sensory signals. As a result of the damaged sustained in my thalamus, my brain misinterprets the signals sent by the mechanoreceptors, and a pain flare is set in motion.

Figuring out what exactly specific weather events do to the body, I'm finding, is an imprecise science that's still developing, particularly when it comes to pain. I've trawled scientific research looking for answers. Although the research is inconclusive, it doesn't mean that weather related pain isn't real.

I'm absolutely convinced that weather systems can affect people who have pain.

The weather has been cited as a possible cause for everything from changes in blood pressure to an increase in joint pain. It's difficult to single out barometric pressure changes as the definitive cause for these issues, because there are other factors to take into account, such as temperature, precipitation and the wind speed and direction. However, enough people experience symptoms when the barometric pressure changes to leave me convinced that it absolutely is a contributory factor for many who suffer chronic pain.

Some of the methods I use to cope with weather related pain flares:

  • Keep Warm

    I find heat packs on my affected arm and hand help. Research has shown that infrared saunas appear to reduce pain. Whilst it is quite an investment, I took the plunge and purchased an infrared sauna in January. I take a sauna for between 15-20 minutes up to 5 times a week at a temperature of 60°C - 140°F.

    A Japanese study* recommended shorter, more frequent sauna sessions; daily or almost daily 15 minutes sessions followed by a 30 minute warming period during which time you lie wrapped in a blanket. It's important to drink lots of water to replace lost fluids and to avoid dehydration.

  • Compression Gloves and Sleeves

    To date, there are no large scale, well designed studies that have demonstrated a link between compression garments and pain relief. However, the grumpy nerves in both my hand and arm appear to respond well. My theory rests in that of tricking my brain by changing the ambient pressure. I hope this makes sense, it sure helps me!

  • Exercise

    I sense a collective groan, but it does work for me! Aside from the physical benefits, it helps tremendously with my sense of emotional and mental wellbeing. The effort to get going is tremendous on high pain days but once I start, distraction and the endorphins kick in.

    Following my stroke, it was a long road back to exercise. It is the hardest but one of the most important building blocks in my battle with chronic pain. Movement is the key that changes my relationship with pain.

  • Breathing

A little over a year ago I began to explore meditation. I started using the app Headspace, and I discovered the power of breathing. In moments of intense pain I have found it helpful to direct my attention away from ‘the sensation’ and direct it to my breathing.

Now it's your turn

If you are experience pain in relation to weather changes, Join the CPS patient conversation at our closed Facebook group, come share your thoughts and coping strategies, and how well they are working for you.

References:

Sato J, Inagaki H, Kusui M, Yokosuka M, Ushida T (2019) Lowering barometric pressure induces neuronal activation in the superior vestibular nucleus in mice. PLoS ONE 14(1): e0211297. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0211297

Fagerlund AJ, Iversen M, Ekeland A, Moen CM, Aslaksen PM (2019) Blame it on the weather? The association between pain in fibromyalgia, relative humidity, temperature and barometric pressure. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0216902. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0216902

Telfer S, Obradovich N (2017) Local weather is associated with rates of online searches for musculoskeletal pain symptoms. PLoS ONE 12(8): e0181266. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0181266

Masuda A, Koga Y, Hattanmaru M, Minagoe S, Tei C: The Effects of Repeated Thermal Therapy for Patients with Chronic Pain. Psychother Psychosom 2005;74:288-294. doi: 10.1159/00008631 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16088266

Questions or comments? Join the CPS patient conversation at our closed Facebook group or email us at info@cps.foundation