Fibromyalgia Flares in Winter: Strategies for Staying Warm & Well

Table of contents

Fibromyalgia Flares in Winter: Strategies for Staying Warm & Well

Struggling with fibromyalgia and cold weather when the temperature drops?

Whenever cold weather approaches, you may notice that your fibromyalgia pain flares up. In this article, we will explore how cold weather can make fibromyalgia worse and the science behind this phenomenon. We will also offer you actionable strategies that you can implement to reduce the severity of these symptoms.

What are the fibromyalgia symptoms?

Fibromyalgia is characterized by a spectrum of symptoms that can vary in intensity and presentation among individuals.

The hallmark symptom is widespread pain throughout the body. It's often described as a constant dull ache that has been present for at least three months, but can also show up as sharp pains, tingling or in any other number of ways. Additionally, people with fibromyalgia may experience heightened pain in response to tactile pressure, with specific tender points on the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms, and legs being particularly sensitive.

In addition to pain, other symptoms are common, including:

  • fatigue, including feeling tired after sleeping.
  • "fibro fog" – problems with concentration, organization, and memory
  • morning stiffness or numbness
  • headaches
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • increased sensitivity to temperature, noise, and light
  • mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

Symptoms can impact work and social life, leading to isolation and frustration.

Does cold weather make fibromyalgia worse?

As the mercury falls, many individuals with fibromyalgia report a significant increase in their discomfort. The drop in temperature as well as shifts in humidity seem to amplify pain. A study found that 58% of people who live with fibromyalgia cite weather changes as a critical element in the aggravation of their symptoms2.

Temperature sensitivity

The exacerbation of fibromyalgia symptoms in colder climates can often be traced back to a pronounced sensitivity to temperature changes3.

Due to a more sensitive central nervous system, which is caused by central sensitization, individuals with chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia exhibit an atypical response when temperatures vary. Notably, people diagnosed with fibromyalgia for less than 10 years might show greater susceptibility to this kind of weather sensitivity that is associated with chronic pain.

Barometric pressure changes

Another aspect that influences the increase in pain and discomfort during colder times is the fluctuation of barometric pressure. The changing seasons bring about changes in atmospheric pressure, and these are known to heighten pain sensitivity in those with fibromyalgia. A drop in barometric pressure can cause tissues to swell, which may lead to further joint pain.

The way the body reacts to not just temperature and humidity shifts but also to the changing air pressure can affect the severity of fibromyalgia symptoms throughout the seasons4.

Why does weather affect fibromyalgia? – The science

There are a few difference reasons why you might feel more pain when it gets cold.

Studies suggest that the cold causes muscles to tense and tighten, which leads to heightened pain and restricted mobility for those with pain1. Plus, in colder weather people often reduce their physical activity, which can lead to a decline in physical fitness and and increase in joint stiffness, thereby significantly increasing the pain felt by those with fibromyalgia.

When you get cold, blood flow to your extremities, such as your fingers and toes, is reduced, which might also make it harder for you to deal with the cold and can make your pain feel worse.

Thermogenic activity

Thermogenic activity is like your body's own heater. It's what helps you stay warm. But if you have fibromyalgia, your body might not be so good at keeping you warm. This can make you feel even colder and hurt more when the weather gets chilly5.

Central sensitization

In fibromyalgia, the central nervous system is in a constant state of arousal and becomes hypersensitive to signals in the body. And it responds with pain.

Weather changes and feeling cold is a normal signal, but if you have central sensitization feeling cold can add to your sensitivity. This means that what would be a minor annoyance to a healthy individual could translate into significant discomfort for someone with fibromyalgia.

Some research suggests there might be an increased sensitivity in skin temperature nerve fibers, potentially affecting temperature perception6. This, combined with other factors in fibromyalgia, could contribute to feeling colder and experiencing worsened pain in chilly weather.

How to manage fibromyalgia symptoms during winter months

Understanding what exacerbates fibromyalgia symptoms in cold weather can help you to master strategies to mitigate your pain.

Dress for the weather

To navigate the winter season more comfortably, always dress in several layers so you can adjust your clothing as needed. Start with a warm base layer, and consider wearing thermal or wool fabrics which help regulate body heat effectively. Make sure that your clothing, while layered, isn't too tight, as this could restrict blood flow throughout your body.

Placing hand warmers inside your gloves and boots can provide extra warmth to your hands and feet, promoting better circulation.

What types of exercises are recommended for fibromyalgia patients during cold weather?

If it's too cold or wet for you to want to venture outside, keep active with indoor exercises to manage your symptoms.

Gentle activities such as yoga, swimming, and tai chi are great because they let you stay active without making your symptoms worse from the cold. It's easy to do these exercises at home or in an indoor pool, and you'll find lots of guided videos on YouTube. Remember, not to push past your limits and increase your activity slowly to avoid causing a flare.

Using heat therapy

During the colder seasons, heat therapy is a valuable ally for those of us coping with fibromyalgia. This type of therapy uses warmth to ease pain by soothing tense muscles, joints, and tissues. To integrate heat therapy into daily practices you can:

  • take warm baths or shower to reduce stress and diminish muscle rigidity
  • use aromatic bath additions or candles to intensify the calming environment
  • apply heating pads, heated blankets, or heated compresses onto areas afflicted by pain (but place a towel between your skim and the heat pad to avoid burning your skin).

Infrared saunas are another comforting option that gently elevates body temperature while delivering sustained warmth beneficial for those suffering from fibromyalgia7.

Coupled with other pain-management strategies, these strategies can mitigate bouts of intensified fibromyalgia symptoms and improve your overall wellness.

Medication as an enabler

Medication represents just a piece of the broader pain relief puzzle, which should also encompass educational, lifestyle, and psychological elements.

Typical options for medication include:

  • over-the-counter analgesics such as acetaminophen and naproxen
  • antidepressants such as sertraline and fluoxetine
  • specialized pain relief drugs, for example, Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN)
  • anticonvulsant drugs that may also alleviate nerve pain, such as topiramate and carbamazepine

Retraining your pain

Understanding pain in fibromyalgia isn't just about the physical hurt, it's also about how your mind and feelings are connected to the pain. If you know what makes your pain worse, such as stress or troubling thoughts, you can work on those things. You might change what you eat, get better sleep, exercise more, or learn new ways to think about pain. With practice, you can teach your brain to deal with pain differently, which can make it less of a problem in your life.

The MoreGoodDays® program can guide you through these, step by step, on your pain-management journey.

Managing stress

Life comes with its fair share of stress, but learning to manage it can make a world of difference, especially when you're dealing with fibromyalgia.

Effective stress management can lead to a decrease in the body's sensitivity to pain from regular interactions and movements. There are several strategies to reduce stress levels. Techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness exercises can help you develop healthier thinking patterns, teach you to embrace the present moment, and foster relaxation. Additionally, discussing your experiences with friends, a therapist, or within a support group can provide emotional relief and a sense of community.

Sleep quality

Good sleep is very important when you have fibromyalgia, and it can be so elusive! It’s like the foundation of a house for your daily health. Many people with fibromyalgia find it hard to sleep well.

Here are some simple steps to improve your sleep:

  • Try to get about eight hours of sleep each night and go to bed at the same time.
  • If you need to nap, keep it short so it won’t make it hard to sleep later.
  • Being active during the day can make you tired and ready to sleep at night.
  • Turn off your phone or computer before bed, so your brain can relax.
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet to help you stay asleep.
  • Be careful with caffeine later in the day because it can keep you awake.
  • Don’t eat a big meal or drink alcohol right before you go to bed. They can mess with your sleep.
  • Doing calming things before bed can also help you sleep better and manage your fibromyalgia symptoms.

Dietary & supplement considerations for fibromyalgia patients

When the temperature drops, adjusting your diet and supplement intake can be a key strategy in managing fibromyalgia symptoms. Research indicates that vitamin D supplements can help some people manage their fibromyalgia, particularly when sun exposure is scarce during the winter months.

Eating a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods – like the Mediterranean diet – can be advantageous for overall health. Diet like this are diverse and include a range of fruits and vegetables, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, and those packed with antioxidants known for their inflammation-reducing properties. Many people find it helpful to reduce their consumption of foods that may trigger inflammation, such as those containing gluten, added sugars, and highly processed products.

Dietary patterns that lower carbohydrate intake or incorporate aspects of the Mediterranean diet have demonstrated potential in offering symptom relief8.

More information

Self-care is pivotal in managing the symptoms of fibromyalgia, especially as temperatures drop. However, a holistic management plan often requires the expertise of a pain specialist. This plan may incorporate lifestyle changes and relaxation techniques tailored to relieve the discomfort associated with fibromyalgia in the cold.

At MoreGoodDays®, we craft our resources with attention to detail to aid you in your journey with fibromyalgia. This condition can have a profound impact on your everyday activities. Our resources are designed to be intuitive and actionable, offering insights into fibromyalgia and equipping you with strategies to cope with the associated pain and fatigue.

We are dedicated to steering you towards a life of improved health and greater enjoyment, navigating through the complexities of fibromyalgia.

Download our mobile app for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store for immediate access to some of our content and to see your support options.

  1. Farbu EH, Höper AC, Reierth E, Nilsson T, Skandfer M. Cold exposure and musculoskeletal conditions; A scoping review. Front Physiol. 2022 Sep 1;13:934163. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2022.934163. PMID: 36117709; PMCID: PMC9475294. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9475294/
  2. Hayashi K, Miki K, Hayashi N, Hashimoto R, Yukioka M. Weather sensitivity associated with quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia. BMC Rheumatol. 2021 May 10;5(1):14. doi: 10.1186/s41927-021-00185-4. PMID: 33966632; PMCID: PMC8108353. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8108353/
  3. Berwick RJ, Siew S, Andersson DA, Marshall A, Goebel A. A Systematic Review Into the Influence of Temperature on Fibromyalgia Pain: Meteorological Studies and Quantitative Sensory Testing. J Pain. 2021 May;22(5):473-486. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2020.12.005. Epub 2021 Jan 6. PMID: 33421589. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33421589/
  4. Fagerlund AJ, Iversen M, Ekeland A, Moen CM, Aslaksen PM. Blame it on the weather? The association between pain in fibromyalgia, relative humidity, temperature and barometric pressure. PLoS One. 2019 May 10;14(5):e0216902. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0216902. PMID: 31075151; PMCID: PMC6510434. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31075151/
  5. Larson AA, Pardo JV, Pasley JD. Review of overlap between thermoregulation and pain modulation in fibromyalgia. Clin J Pain. 2014 Jun;30(6):544-55. doi: 10.1097/AJP.0b013e3182a0e383. PMID: 23887348; PMCID: PMC3864605. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3864605/
  6. Lawson VH, Grewal J, Hackshaw KV, Mongiovi PC, Stino AM. Fibromyalgia syndrome and small fiber, early or mild sensory polyneuropathy. Muscle Nerve. 2018 Nov;58(5):625-630. doi: 10.1002/mus.26131. Epub 2018 Apr 26. PMID: 29572887; PMCID: PMC6283273. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6283273/
  7. Tsagkaris C, Papazoglou AS, Eleftheriades A, Tsakopoulos S, Alexiou A, Găman MA, Moysidis DV. Infrared Radiation in the Management of Musculoskeletal Conditions and Chronic Pain: A Systematic Review. Eur J Investig Health Psychol Educ. 2022 Mar 14;12(3):334-343. doi: 10.3390/ejihpe12030024. PMID: 35323210; PMCID: PMC8946909. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8946909/
  8. Pagliai G, Giangrandi I, Dinu M, Sofi F, Colombini B. Nutritional Interventions in the Management of Fibromyalgia Syndrome. Nutrients. 2020 Aug 20;12(9):2525. doi: 10.3390/nu12092525. PMID: 32825400; PMCID: PMC7551285. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7551285/

Fibromyalgia Flares in Winter: Strategies for Staying Warm & Well

Table of contents

Fibromyalgia Flares in Winter: Strategies for Staying Warm & Well

Struggling with fibromyalgia and cold weather when the temperature drops?

Whenever cold weather approaches, you may notice that your fibromyalgia pain flares up. In this article, we will explore how cold weather can make fibromyalgia worse and the science behind this phenomenon. We will also offer you actionable strategies that you can implement to reduce the severity of these symptoms.

What are the fibromyalgia symptoms?

Fibromyalgia is characterized by a spectrum of symptoms that can vary in intensity and presentation among individuals.

The hallmark symptom is widespread pain throughout the body. It's often described as a constant dull ache that has been present for at least three months, but can also show up as sharp pains, tingling or in any other number of ways. Additionally, people with fibromyalgia may experience heightened pain in response to tactile pressure, with specific tender points on the neck, shoulders, back, hips, arms, and legs being particularly sensitive.

In addition to pain, other symptoms are common, including:

  • fatigue, including feeling tired after sleeping.
  • "fibro fog" – problems with concentration, organization, and memory
  • morning stiffness or numbness
  • headaches
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • increased sensitivity to temperature, noise, and light
  • mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.

Symptoms can impact work and social life, leading to isolation and frustration.

Does cold weather make fibromyalgia worse?

As the mercury falls, many individuals with fibromyalgia report a significant increase in their discomfort. The drop in temperature as well as shifts in humidity seem to amplify pain. A study found that 58% of people who live with fibromyalgia cite weather changes as a critical element in the aggravation of their symptoms2.

Temperature sensitivity

The exacerbation of fibromyalgia symptoms in colder climates can often be traced back to a pronounced sensitivity to temperature changes3.

Due to a more sensitive central nervous system, which is caused by central sensitization, individuals with chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia exhibit an atypical response when temperatures vary. Notably, people diagnosed with fibromyalgia for less than 10 years might show greater susceptibility to this kind of weather sensitivity that is associated with chronic pain.

Barometric pressure changes

Another aspect that influences the increase in pain and discomfort during colder times is the fluctuation of barometric pressure. The changing seasons bring about changes in atmospheric pressure, and these are known to heighten pain sensitivity in those with fibromyalgia. A drop in barometric pressure can cause tissues to swell, which may lead to further joint pain.

The way the body reacts to not just temperature and humidity shifts but also to the changing air pressure can affect the severity of fibromyalgia symptoms throughout the seasons4.

Why does weather affect fibromyalgia? – The science

There are a few difference reasons why you might feel more pain when it gets cold.

Studies suggest that the cold causes muscles to tense and tighten, which leads to heightened pain and restricted mobility for those with pain1. Plus, in colder weather people often reduce their physical activity, which can lead to a decline in physical fitness and and increase in joint stiffness, thereby significantly increasing the pain felt by those with fibromyalgia.

When you get cold, blood flow to your extremities, such as your fingers and toes, is reduced, which might also make it harder for you to deal with the cold and can make your pain feel worse.

Thermogenic activity

Thermogenic activity is like your body's own heater. It's what helps you stay warm. But if you have fibromyalgia, your body might not be so good at keeping you warm. This can make you feel even colder and hurt more when the weather gets chilly5.

Central sensitization

In fibromyalgia, the central nervous system is in a constant state of arousal and becomes hypersensitive to signals in the body. And it responds with pain.

Weather changes and feeling cold is a normal signal, but if you have central sensitization feeling cold can add to your sensitivity. This means that what would be a minor annoyance to a healthy individual could translate into significant discomfort for someone with fibromyalgia.

Some research suggests there might be an increased sensitivity in skin temperature nerve fibers, potentially affecting temperature perception6. This, combined with other factors in fibromyalgia, could contribute to feeling colder and experiencing worsened pain in chilly weather.

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How to manage fibromyalgia symptoms during winter months

Understanding what exacerbates fibromyalgia symptoms in cold weather can help you to master strategies to mitigate your pain.

Dress for the weather

To navigate the winter season more comfortably, always dress in several layers so you can adjust your clothing as needed. Start with a warm base layer, and consider wearing thermal or wool fabrics which help regulate body heat effectively. Make sure that your clothing, while layered, isn't too tight, as this could restrict blood flow throughout your body.

Placing hand warmers inside your gloves and boots can provide extra warmth to your hands and feet, promoting better circulation.

What types of exercises are recommended for fibromyalgia patients during cold weather?

If it's too cold or wet for you to want to venture outside, keep active with indoor exercises to manage your symptoms.

Gentle activities such as yoga, swimming, and tai chi are great because they let you stay active without making your symptoms worse from the cold. It's easy to do these exercises at home or in an indoor pool, and you'll find lots of guided videos on YouTube. Remember, not to push past your limits and increase your activity slowly to avoid causing a flare.

Using heat therapy

During the colder seasons, heat therapy is a valuable ally for those of us coping with fibromyalgia. This type of therapy uses warmth to ease pain by soothing tense muscles, joints, and tissues. To integrate heat therapy into daily practices you can:

  • take warm baths or shower to reduce stress and diminish muscle rigidity
  • use aromatic bath additions or candles to intensify the calming environment
  • apply heating pads, heated blankets, or heated compresses onto areas afflicted by pain (but place a towel between your skim and the heat pad to avoid burning your skin).

Infrared saunas are another comforting option that gently elevates body temperature while delivering sustained warmth beneficial for those suffering from fibromyalgia7.

Coupled with other pain-management strategies, these strategies can mitigate bouts of intensified fibromyalgia symptoms and improve your overall wellness.

Medication as an enabler

Medication represents just a piece of the broader pain relief puzzle, which should also encompass educational, lifestyle, and psychological elements.

Typical options for medication include:

  • over-the-counter analgesics such as acetaminophen and naproxen
  • antidepressants such as sertraline and fluoxetine
  • specialized pain relief drugs, for example, Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN)
  • anticonvulsant drugs that may also alleviate nerve pain, such as topiramate and carbamazepine

Retraining your pain

Understanding pain in fibromyalgia isn't just about the physical hurt, it's also about how your mind and feelings are connected to the pain. If you know what makes your pain worse, such as stress or troubling thoughts, you can work on those things. You might change what you eat, get better sleep, exercise more, or learn new ways to think about pain. With practice, you can teach your brain to deal with pain differently, which can make it less of a problem in your life.

The MoreGoodDays® program can guide you through these, step by step, on your pain-management journey.

Managing stress

Life comes with its fair share of stress, but learning to manage it can make a world of difference, especially when you're dealing with fibromyalgia.

Effective stress management can lead to a decrease in the body's sensitivity to pain from regular interactions and movements. There are several strategies to reduce stress levels. Techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness exercises can help you develop healthier thinking patterns, teach you to embrace the present moment, and foster relaxation. Additionally, discussing your experiences with friends, a therapist, or within a support group can provide emotional relief and a sense of community.

Sleep quality

Good sleep is very important when you have fibromyalgia, and it can be so elusive! It’s like the foundation of a house for your daily health. Many people with fibromyalgia find it hard to sleep well.

Here are some simple steps to improve your sleep:

  • Try to get about eight hours of sleep each night and go to bed at the same time.
  • If you need to nap, keep it short so it won’t make it hard to sleep later.
  • Being active during the day can make you tired and ready to sleep at night.
  • Turn off your phone or computer before bed, so your brain can relax.
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet to help you stay asleep.
  • Be careful with caffeine later in the day because it can keep you awake.
  • Don’t eat a big meal or drink alcohol right before you go to bed. They can mess with your sleep.
  • Doing calming things before bed can also help you sleep better and manage your fibromyalgia symptoms.

Dietary & supplement considerations for fibromyalgia patients

When the temperature drops, adjusting your diet and supplement intake can be a key strategy in managing fibromyalgia symptoms. Research indicates that vitamin D supplements can help some people manage their fibromyalgia, particularly when sun exposure is scarce during the winter months.

Eating a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods – like the Mediterranean diet – can be advantageous for overall health. Diet like this are diverse and include a range of fruits and vegetables, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, and those packed with antioxidants known for their inflammation-reducing properties. Many people find it helpful to reduce their consumption of foods that may trigger inflammation, such as those containing gluten, added sugars, and highly processed products.

Dietary patterns that lower carbohydrate intake or incorporate aspects of the Mediterranean diet have demonstrated potential in offering symptom relief8.

More information

Self-care is pivotal in managing the symptoms of fibromyalgia, especially as temperatures drop. However, a holistic management plan often requires the expertise of a pain specialist. This plan may incorporate lifestyle changes and relaxation techniques tailored to relieve the discomfort associated with fibromyalgia in the cold.

At MoreGoodDays®, we craft our resources with attention to detail to aid you in your journey with fibromyalgia. This condition can have a profound impact on your everyday activities. Our resources are designed to be intuitive and actionable, offering insights into fibromyalgia and equipping you with strategies to cope with the associated pain and fatigue.

We are dedicated to steering you towards a life of improved health and greater enjoyment, navigating through the complexities of fibromyalgia.

Download our mobile app for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store for immediate access to some of our content and to see your support options.