As a physical therapist, I frequently work with people who suffer from chronic pain. When the weather changes – including colder temperatures or air pressure changes – I frequently have patients asking why the weather seems to influence their pain symptoms.
The answer to this question is a bit complicated, however, put simply no it cannot cause pain – or at least not in the manner we often associate pain. We often associate pain with damage, so in this sense cold weather does not cause damage. With this being the case, you still may be curious as to why pain seems to flare up with weather changes.
Our bodies are incredible in many ways. One of the most interesting and powerful is that our bodies adapt. That adaptation is a large part of what is used in physical therapy to decrease pain, improve function and help you get back to doing the things you love to do. However, sometimes the ways our bodies adapt is not for the best. For example, our nerves begin to change in the case of long term or chronic pain. This change is complex but can be simplified with a metaphor:
Imagine your nervous system as an alarm on your house. In a normal situation it will alert you to potential threats or when a burglar breaks into your home. However, in the case of chronic pain the alarm system has become far more sensitive. Now it not only alerts to potential threats but also the squirrel crossing your yard. This heightened alarm system is what is happening to the nervous system.
Our nerves have many receptors including barorecptors (for air pressure) and thermoreceptors (for temperature). As these receptors become more sensitive or multiply, they send more signals to our brain warning of perceived danger. However, just as these changes can occur they can also be altered back toward normal.
If you are dealing with chronic pain, or pain that seems to flare up as the weather changes, schedule a free assessment with our team at Athletico. During your assessment our experts will take a look at your condition and provide recommendations for treatment, which could include starting physical therapy the same day.
The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.
1. Louw A, Puentedura E. Therapeutic neuroscience education : teaching patients about pain : a guide for clinicians. 2013.