Why do my joints/old injuries hurt more in cold weather? Chronic pain

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The Fat Controller.  Sometimes he gets a bit too nosey about what's going on.

The Fat Controller. Sometimes he gets a bit too nosey about what’s going on.

Some people find their joints or their old injuries hurt more when the weather is cold –  sometimes people can tell if a thunderstorm is coming because of the pain in their knee, for example.  There are two reasons why.

The first reason is because of extra sensitive nerve sensors.  In the past two blogs, I have covered that when we have a serious injury, the brain goes to great efforts to protect us from further injury, and part of that protection process lies in becoming much more sensitive to pain – or potential pain.  The Fat Controller of the brain, 1  the frontal cortex, becomes extremely interested in protecting the injured part, and this can last long after the event.  The Fat Controller wants to know everything thats going on down there, and so part of its alarm system comes from our nerve sensors.  They could be likened to lights on the dash board of a car.

There are many nerve sensors, but the interesting ones here are:

  • Temperature
  • Stress
  • Movement and pressure
  • Immunity
  • Blood flow

So when it gets colder, the temperature sensors fire off, lighting up the dashboard in the Fat Controller’s office – ‘Uh oh, its getting cold outside.  Better be careful, we don’t want to slip on ice or get hypothermia. Send down pain signals so we stop rushing about.’

Similarly when we face stress: there are nerve sensors for stress, and as stress levels rise, we feel our aches and pains.  If we are recovering from a cold and get the stress of a parking ticket, we instantly feel much worse again.

If we sit still for ages, typing away at the computer as I am now, after a while sensors detect we haven’t moved enough and we get uncomfortable.  ‘Oh, for goodness sakes’, says the Fat Controller, ‘get off your lardy arse and at least get a coffee.’  We won’t talk about the accidental biscuit.

And then there is the immune system; as talked about in a previous blog, when we have a cold, we feel awful for good reason; its the brain’s way of trying to make us stop and rest.  Immune system molecules float about us being busy; and so it is after a physical trauma.  We have sensors detecting this, so if we are stressing about something, are ill or injured the brain knows this and this too can trigger more pain in an old injury site.

The second reason we can become sensitive to a change in the weather is back to the subject of stress.  Dr Eric Cobb, Mr Z health, drew a picture of a ‘stress bucket’ on a white board.  On the outside of the bucket was a little tap.  Pouring into the bucket were various stresors:

  • Poor vision
  • Pain
  • Bad nutrition.  Avoiding red meat and fat is not a healthy diet.
  • Poor body maps2
  • Emotional stress
  • Poor sleep
  • Poor breathing patterns – eg when breathing in, the tummy goes IN instead of out.
  • Bad posture

All these things build up and eventually the level in the ‘bucket’ gets high enough to start pouring out of the tap, at which point pain goes up, performance goes down and we get more and more tired.

The point of all this is that understanding this can help the Fat Controller calm down and get less worried about a bit of a cold blast or a looming electricity bill.  And then we can get more of a handle on our chronic pain without resorting to endless pain killers.

 

 

 

 

  1. The Fat Controller: thank you, Thomas The Tank Engine. []
  2. This statement is a little hard to understand unless you have met Z health.  I have never come across anybody who has clear idea of how to move their ankle, for example.  Yes, they can move their foot up and down, but the toes are joining in, as is the knee. []

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