A 2016 study conducted by researchers in the Netherlands set out to examine any correlations between the painful symptoms associated with fibromyalgia patients and weather conditions. They concluded that there is actually more evidence against than in support of the weather having any influence over daily symptoms. There were a few fibromyalgia patients whose pain seemed to worsen during cold weather, but not enough out of 333 test subjects to merit a conclusive correlation. Similar studies such as those examining the correlation between rheumatoid arthritis and the weather, do not find a substantial link between weather patterns and symptoms similar to those found in fibromyalgia patients.
Studies like these often speculate a similar theory: that the belief that fibromyalgia pain is exacerbated during poor weather conditions, especially those related to cold and wet temperatures, is what leads to the pain. Before you come out with guns blazing, let’s look at how they come to speculate such things. They base the theory on the way they conduct their studies, which is quite measured. They typically instruct fibro patients to keep a journal of their symptoms each day for a specified amount of time. Then the researchers take the patient data and compare it with the weather in that area for each day, including factors such as temperature, precipitation, and barometric pressure. Each time these studies are conducted, they usually get the same kind of results: there is usually no difference in the pain levels of the fibromyalgia patients on colder days, and for the few that do notice a difference, it’s relatively negligible. A 2001 study found similar results; however, they also discovered something quite interesting. Those suffering from fibromyalgia for less than 10 years actually had significantly greater weather sensitivity. Of course, they have no explanation for why this is the case.
Don’t you just love it when science tells you that you’re wrong about your own pain? You may be one of those people whose pain truly escalates in almost measurable ways on cold days and seasons. Research is a funny thing, after all. It is not uncommon for studies to be conducted in the same way, addressing the same issue, and come out with the exact opposite conclusion. In thinking outside of the box a little, perhaps there are other explanations for why many with fibromyalgia often experience a worsening of symptoms when the weather is colder. For example, have you ever noticed how your body physically responds to the cold? Think about it in the context of the game Charades. To indicate you are cold, you would likely hunch over, tense your muscles, pull your neck in, and grab your arms. It seems like a natural response, a reflex of sorts. But think about the tension in your muscles for a moment. When you are dealing with a fibromyalgia flare, it may feel like every muscle in your body or perhaps just a certain region is in pain. It may seem like relief is never coming, but consider the little bit of respite that comes from relaxing your muscles, as opposed to keeping them tense.
But wait, there’s more! Yet another team of researchers led by a neuroscientist and a neurologist out of New York found “an enormous increase in the number of sensory nerve fibers within the blood vessels of the skin on the palms of fibromyalgia patients’ hands.” Since these blood vessels in the hands and feet help regulate body temperature, they open up when exposed to cold. Therefore, the increased activity could be an explanation for the added pain often experienced by fibromyalgia patients. With this in mind, simply relaxing the muscles despite the cold will not necessarily do the trick. If nerve fibers and blood vessels are running the show, then it seems the only option is to simply stay warm. For example, fellow fibromyalgia sufferer Lady Gaga uses an infrared sauna with an emergency blanket to relieve pain. You may have other methods, like staying indoors as much as possible. With this option, it is important to remember that the lack of Vitamin D from regular exposure to sunlight will heavily impact your depression and overall health. Thus, it would be wise to consider a high quality supplement. Of course, you will want to discuss the dosage with your healthcare practitioner before beginning this regimen.
With or without fibromyalgia, cold temperatures can take a toll on the joints and body because it must work harder to stay warm. Whatever the reasons are that many fibromyalgia patients feel worse during harsher temperatures, pain is pain. Do your best to be mindful of how you are tensing your muscles and ways to stay warm in order to minimize the pain. Good luck this winter!