Weather Changes and Chronic Pain: Is There a Connection?

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A look at the sky shows dark clouds rolling in, and weather forecasters are calling for rain. These are the signs most of us look for to determine the weather conditions each day, but some people don’t need the signs—some people swear by the pain in their bones or joints a day or two before the weather change. Are you one of those people? Does your knee arthritis flare up? Does your shoulder ache? Does your hip stiffen? Skeptics might call this an old wives’ tale, but, now, a new study in process shows there may indeed be a connection between weather changes and chronic pain.

The Smartphone Study on Weather Changes and Chronic Pain

Cloudy with a Chance of Pain, a study out of the University of Manchester in the U.K., is ongoing research in which participants use an app on their smartphones to record and track their pain levels each day. Using GPS, the smartphone automatically collects weather data. Since the app went live in January of this year, over 9,000 people have participated in the study. The study hypothesis is that there is a connection between weather changes and chronic pain, and the data is indeed showing a “consistent correlation between pain and rain and lack of sunshine.” This fits with a prior study I blogged a while back on hip arthritis and the weather.

There are over 100 million Americans suffering from hard-to-treat chronic pain. So what does this study mean if you are one of those who is prone to acute attacks of your chronic pain when the weather is changing? Now that we think there is likely a connection? It means we can be proactive during those times of the year (e.g., rainy seasons) when the weather is changing and be prepared before the pain kicks in. Let’s look, first, at what not to do when proactively addressing your pain.

Learn about Regenexx procedures for knee conditions.

What Not to Do to Treat Your Pain When the Weather Changes

At the top of our no-no list is narcotics. Earlier this summer, I covered a study showing narcotics actually prolong and worsen pain! Prescription narcotics include drugs like Percocet, morphine, and opioids, such as OxyContin, Vicodin, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. They are highly addictive, and abuse of these drugs is common. In fact, in 2015, there were approximately 20,000 deaths from overdoses of prescription narcotics in the U.S. (source: the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which can be viewed at the link above).

Despite this disturbing epidemic of prescription-narcotic deaths, big pharma keeps pushing them, doctors keep routinely prescribing them, and patients keep taking them because they don’t know any other way to address their pain…or because they’ve been taking them so long, they’ve become addicted or dependent on them.

Competing for the top spot on our no-no list are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). NSAIDs can be over-the-counter drugs like naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Motrin and Advil) or prescription drugs like celecoxib (Celebrex) and meloxicam (Mobic).

NSAIDs, quite simply, are bad news! They, too are riddled with dangerous side effects. NSAIDs carry risks such as bleeding from gastric ulcers and a potential connection to Alzheimer’s disease. A 200–400% increase in sudden-death heart attacks has also been shown in conjunction with NSAID use. This has even prompted warnings about NSAID use to be issued by the American Heart Association.

So what can you do to deal with chronic pain if narcotics and NSAIDs are a no-no? First, if you haven’t started taking them, don’t. If you have started taking them and aren’t sure how to stop, follow this link to help you kick the NSAID habit.

Chronic inflammation is often a driving force behind chronic pain. Getting this inflammation under control is a good starting point for dealing with pain. Often, successfully addressing inflammation is enough to keep patients away from dangerous and addicting prescription medications while we find and treat the source of the pain. So how can you address the inflammation?

  1. Cut sugar, carbohydrate, and inflammatory-oil (e.g., vegetable oil) consumption! This is the most powerful thing you can do to address inflammation; our bodies live in a constant inflammatory state due to these poor dietary choices, and they are in almost every processed food we eat. This constant state of inflammation catches up to us as we age. Dr. Pitts’s book, Nutrition 2.0, can help with this.
  2. Regular and appropriate levels of exercise can downregulate all of the proinflammatory chemicals in the blood.
  3. Supplements like curcumin, fish oil, glucosamine, and chondroitin are non-addictive, natural ways to address inflammation and pain.

The upshot? First and foremost, don’t go pop a narcotic or NSAID pill as soon as the weather change triggers an acute attack of your chronic pain. Get off the NSAID and narcotic sauce as they can be dangerous ways of dealing with chronic pain, and studies show they prolong rather than fix the pain. If you’d rather get your weather forecast from the weather person than from your joints, start proactively addressing your chronic pain now!

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.

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