The links in this article are not affiliated links, they’re just so you can find things quickly if you are interested. I literally get nothing from them being in my post (sadly, hehe).
I’m sure many people with fibromyalgia (and probably other chronic pain conditions) experience discomfort when the weather changes. For me, cold weather causes a lot of discomfort: extremely overstimulated nerves, painful joints, muscle stiffness, muscle aches, extreme fatigue, etc. I think part of the overstimulated nerves comes from the dry skin I get in the winter.
Even though I only got officially diagnosed with fibromyalgia in January 2013, I have been having symptoms for most of my life. Thankfully, having symptoms most of your life helps you come up with some tricks. I’m still working on an effective routine, but I have a few things that will help when I need some relief.
Chronic Pain Relief in Winter – at Home
- Put on warm, comfortable clothing. Seriously, stay warm. When my joints and muscles are aching, the cold just locks them up even more. Sweat pants, fuzzy socks, slippers, baggy tee shirts (sans bra if it’s more comfortable), sweaters, sweatshirts, etc. Put on whatever keeps you warm, and doesn’t irritate your nervous system. When I’m flaring, I need smooth fabrics that don’t bind. Just make sure you are comfortable, and stay warm.
- BLANKETS!!!! Yes, cuddle under the blankets. I know that sometimes organizing the clothing under the blankets can be uncomfortable, but if you can get it organized so that you are comfy, blankets help with the staying warm, and add a little compression… which brings me to the next point.
- Apply gentle pressure to joints. Even though my joints aren’t visually swollen, they feel like they are: stiff, hard to move, sore. I have noticed that gentle pressure helps with that feeling. Blankets are great for gentle pressure, but, if you can handle more, heating pads are fantastic too. Heating pads are also awesome because they also help warm you up. Sometimes Dan is willing to help me apply gentle pressure, he’ll just gently squeeze my knees in both hands for a bit. It’s so weird that the pressure helps, but it does.
- If you have a fireplace, make a fire. I have a wood burning fireplace, so I’ll put on a Duraflame log quite often. Sometimes I try to make wood fires, but our firebox is tiny so it can be really difficult to get it going. Our apartment had a gas/electric fireplace, but it was just for show… it didn’t really put off any heat. My parents have a gas fireplace that puts off tons of lovely heat! It can really help you feel cozy.
- If you don’t have a fireplace, you can get a similar effect from a space heater. You can get small fan-forced space heaters for about $10 at Walmart. I’m sure you can get them from other places inexpensively too, that’s just where I got mine. They’re great if you are being stationary (or staying in one smallish area), and prevent you from turning up the whole house heater.
- You can always turn up the whole house heater too, it’s just more expensive. But the goal is to make the room warmer. It helps calm down the nervous system.
- Take a warm bath. If you do not have diabetes (or some other medical issues that could be negatively impacted by gritty materials or magnesium), add some Epsom salts to the bath water. You could make it an oatmeal bath if you want, especially if your skin is super dry and itchy (omit the salt). I will use Aveeno oatmeal bath packets, just because they’re very convenient. I’m sure, however, that there are recipes online to make your own oatmeal baths for a lot cheaper. Get the water as hot as you can tolerate, that way you can soak in the bath longer before it gets cold. I sit in there, trying to stay as submerged as possible (obviously not my whole face, oxygen is definitely good), until the water gets uncomfortable. Then I take a quick rinse off shower (to get the salt or oatmeal off my skin) in warm water. The warm water really helps relax all of my joints. Just be sure to dry off quickly and get dressed in warm clothing, or else you could shock your muscles and have them tense up even worse than before the bath.
- Lotion. Lots of lotion. You want lotion. I cannot stress this enough. Use plenty of lotion to keep your skin calm. I put hand lotion on at LEAST every time I wash my hands. Today I’ve put it on about every ten minutes because my body is all dry and itchy. Put it on where you can tolerate it. I put it on my hands constantly, I put it on my feet rather regularly, my legs and arms (at least my elbows, depends on how they feel) get lotion after every shower, and sometimes I have to have Dan put it on my back. After my showers, I put on Udderly Smooth (I get mine from Walmart, it’s with the pharmacy stuff, not with the other body lotions… look for eczema creams). It absorbs very quickly, and it helps retain moisture; it doesn’t provide immediate relief from dry skin, but it works wonders for the long term. For immediate relief, I use Aveeno Daily Moisturizing or Positively Nourishing Calming lotion. Aveeno is fantastic for my itching. My face is very prone to acne, so I can’t use either of these on my face (far too heavy, and Udderly Smooth probably shouldn’t be used on the face anyway). For my face I use Boots Expert Sensitive Hydrating Eye Cream (weird, I never buy expensive brand names, didn’t realize what it was when it was recommended haha), which is the only one light enough for my eyes, and Olay Complete for Oily/Combination Skin or Moisturizing Lotion for Sensitive Skin. It’s taken me forever to find stuff that doesn’t make me break out.
- Hot beverages. I strongly recommend decaf. When my nervous system is flipping out, caffeine is the worst thing I can do to it. Caffeine is a stimulant, and when you’re nervous system is on red alert, the last thing you need to do is give it caffeine (okay, in my head I just imagined a bunch of little nerve cells in a military command center super tense, then someone gives them all espresso shots and *BOOM* someone pushes the red button while reaching for the not-red button and there goes the country). The best things you can do are relaxing things. Try chamomile tea, if you like it, or at least decaf something. Right this moment, I’m drinking The Republic of Tea Cardamom Cinnamon with cream. I’ll probably switch off the tea with cream in a bit (it bogs down my digestive system if I have too much) and switch to either Bigelow decaf Earl Grey or The Republic of Tea Hibiscus Vanilla Apple. I drink a ton of tea in the winter. I use Splenda (the link has information about safety studies if you want it) instead of sugar because I don’t want to drink that much sugar all the time. I know some people don’t like to use artificial sweeteners, so to each there own, I just like to cut out the unnecessary calories and sugar.
- Beverages in general. Stay hydrated. Stay very, very hydrated! Any beverage can be counted as hydration (even caffeine, but see my early note on why caffeine is a bad idea during a flare), they all add moisture and the amount of caffeine you would need to consume to counteract all the water in the product is more than you will find in the beverage. Staying hydrated will keep your skin from freaking out as badly. Try really hard to stay hydrated. A rule I had to follow on a long canoe trip when I was much younger was P.O.P.C – pee often, pee clear. If your urine is clear, then you are taking in more water than your body can use (which is actually good), and you are properly hydrated. Do not wait until you are thirsty, then you are already dehydrated. (Though, do be careful about water toxicity please! If your body tells you to stop, and it’s getting hard to swallow, then stop drinking!)
- Gentle massage. Dan will give me rubs, which are a very gentle massage. He just rubs on my sore muscles with enough pressure it doesn’t tickle. These rubs can be serious life savers sometimes. If you don’t have a Dan, there are plenty of gentle massage devices available for purchase. The gentle massages are fantastic on sore muscles.
- Gentle stretching. I know, when you are in pain, the last thing you want to do is move around. But I promise, gentle stretching does help. Just go slowly and avoid anything that hurts. It can really help to relax your muscles and give your nerves a slight break.
- Meditation. Guided meditation helps reframe your perception of the pain, and it can even help to get you completely focused on something else. It also helps you relax your nervous system and muscles. I use the Calm app (I use the paid version now, but the free version was fantastic too) every single day, and it has been helping immensely.
Preventing Chronic Pain Flares in Winter
While I have not been able to completely avoid winter flares, I have noticed certain things really help keep the flares from coming on as often or intensely.
- Light exercise. Getting regular light exercise, like Pilates, really helps my fibro. Exercising three times a week is what I need to do for my own fibro. Everyone is different with the amount and intensity needed for relief. For me, while once a week doesn’t full on prevent flares, it does keep the intensity down. I’m working my way up to the three times a day. I do Pilates once a week, and I’m planning on stepping it up to twice a week. Then I want to restart riding the recumbent bike at the rec center once a week. Dan and I are also starting to walk to the mailbox more regularly (the mailboxes are about a 1/4 mile round trip), trying to ramp up to doing it daily. Just stay mobile. If all you can do is stretch for 5 minutes, start there.
- Stay hydrated.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep lets the nervous system rest, as well as the rest of your body.
- Stay warm. Do not let yourself get too cold, it can definitely trigger pain.
Hopefully, some of these tips can help you get through the winter! They definitely help me (and would help me even more if I was better at staying hydrated and if our tubs would hold water).