Here Comes the Rain, There Goes My Back - It’s All a Pain in the Neck
Here we go again. The weather is changing and with it, the level of discomfort ramps up throughout our body. As evidenced by comments in our peer support groups, being sensitive to the weather seems to be all too common for those of us living with a spinal cord injury (SCI). The Rollin’ RNs wanted to investigate this phenomenon and now, here we are to share our findings.
First, let’s check out why the weather can make you uncomfortable.
Following, are some theories that scientists have to explain why changes in the weather can play a role in increasing our pain.
Barometric pressure changes, which is the weight of the atmosphere around us, may play a role in causing discomfort. Barometric pressure often drops prior to the arrival of inclement weather. These atmospheric changes can cause expansion and contraction of tendons, muscles, bones, and scar tissue throughout the body resulting in aches and pain. That is why some can predict the weather is about to change even before it does.
Decreased activity can also play a role. It is known that physical activity can assist in relieving arthritis discomfort. But when the weather turns bad, people tend to stay inside and take it easy, which can lead to increased pain due to inactivity.
Cold temperatures may also increase the thickness of joint fluids, making joints stiffer and more sensitive to pain.
Next, let’s discuss the topic of pain.
Persons with SCI may suffer from musculoskeletal pain which affects the muscles, bones, or joints. This pain can be caused by injury, overuse or strain, arthritic changes (especially as we get older), or wear and tear of the joints. Think about it, every one of those causes could fit into the profile of someone with an SCI. From the initial injury that caused our SCI to our daily activities such as pushing a manual wheelchair, performing transfers, or working to maintain proper sitting posture because of ineffective core muscles.
Some common areas of the body at risk for musculoskeletal pain include the shoulders, elbows, and hands. As already mentioned, this is often caused by overuse of the muscles from performing transfers, pressure relief maneuvers, and pushing a wheelchair. And for people with higher-level injuries, using computers or joysticks for many of their activities (reading, communicating, environmental controls) may contribute to developing pain in the hand, arm, or shoulder from overuse. The back and neck may also experience spinal arthritis, which usually develops as we age. As the cartilage between the joints and vertebrae of the spine slowly breaks down, it leads to inflammation and pain and is typically more noticeable when you bend or twist your back or neck. Have you ever noticed how your neck aches after looking down at your phone all day? Pain in these areas may also be more common in those who have had surgery to fuse their spine, which so many of us have had. Pain and stiffness are the most common symptoms of spinal arthritis.
So, with all that said, when the weather changes it sets us up for:
Expansion and contraction of tendons, muscles, bones, and scar tissue.
Increased thickness of joint fluids, making them stiffer.
Is it any wonder that we are stiff, in pain, and generally uncomfortable?
How to Ease Weather-Related Pain
If you live in an area where the weather constantly plays mayhem on your SCI body, no need to pick up and relocate. There’s plenty you can do at home to relieve weather-related pain.
When temperatures start to drop, try to keep yourself warm. Take tepid showers or baths, dress in layers during the day, wrap up in a warm blanket or use an electric blanket at night (with caution), or crank up the heat inside your home.
Find a sunny window inside to soak up the sunshine and its warmth. Especially on your neck and back.
You can also use a heating pad (with caution) on painful areas.
Drink hot teas or beverages. Warm up from inside out.
Ask your doctor about pain medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).
Keep a healthy weight and stay active. Try exercise that’s gentle on the joints, like yoga or swimming. That will help you build up muscle and bone strength.
The good news is that your body should return to normal as soon as the barometric pressure increases, the temperature rises, and the sun replaces the clouds and rain. It’s also been said that the mind-body connection is strong. If warm, sunny weather makes you feel better psychologically, you’ll probably feel better physically as well.
It’s all good, so keep on rollin’.
Roberta, RN and Patty, BSN, RNC
The Rollin’ RNs ™