Feel like cold weather increases your pelvic pain or other symptoms? You’re certainly not alone. Many patients report that the weather plays a role in their symptoms. Research is now confirming these anecdotal reports.
In a study of thirty-one patients with chronic pelvic pain, the subjects reported that pain intensity increased with cold weather. In fact, according to the study, symptoms increased nearly threefold and it was noticed by all subjects in the study.
This confirms the results of other studies; for example, we know that arthritis pain and stiffness certainly is related to lower temperatures.
These results also provide important clues about the source of pelvic pain. Cold weather causes muscles to stiffen and tighten, which then increases pain and symptoms. If the pain were coming from an organ – for example, the bladder or prostate – the weather wouldn’t have an effect, since the body is at a constant internal temperature of 98.6 degrees, regardless of outside temperature. Instead, the changes the weather cause muscles to tighten, irritating nerves and exacerbating symptoms.
Obviously we can’t control the weather, but there are ways to help combat the impact of cold weather.
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A Warm Bath – Many patients report that a warm bath is one of the best things they can do for their symptoms. The prolonged heat relaxes muscles. That rosy glow on the skin is blood flow rushing to the skin and extremities, which can help restore circulation and carry away inflammation. For bonus points, add some Epsom salts and your favorite essential oil (Lavender, Jasmine or Chamomile are common favorites) to make it even more relaxing. If you have access to a hot tub or a gym with a steam room, those can also be great options.
Stretching – Cold weather causes muscles to tighten up; stretching is designed to loosen muscles and keep them at their normal length. It can be tempting to give up on your stretching regimen when the weather turns chilly, but this is the most important time to keep that habit strong. Stretching the inner thighs, hamstrings, hip flexors, and the pelvic floor can offset the effects of cold weather on the body.
Raise the Thermostat – Don’t feel like you have to suffer during the winter; raising the thermostat a few degrees can have a major impact on your symptoms in the morning and evenings. Or fight fire with fire; lying in front of a few blazing logs can help warm soak into the stiff muscles.
Say ‘Yes’ to Sweatpants – While they might not be the most fashionable choice, keeping your inner thighs, pelvis, and abdomen warm can make a major difference in pain levels. A warm pair of sweatpants can make the winter chill disappear.
Pull out a Hot Pack – With just a few minutes in the microwave, a hot pack can make a big difference. Use it to provide targeted heat to the low back, abdomen, hip, or other painful areas. We like this hot pack (which can also be used to ice); use it just before or while stretching.
Exercise -- Even light exercise like going for a walk can cause what is called "physiologic heating" or heating from the inside rather than the outside. That's why light exercise before moderate or intense exercise is literally called "warming up". It's a great idea to add an extra long warm-up before any exercise you perform in cold weather to prevent muscle injury as well.
Dr. Nicole Cozean is the founder of PelvicSanity physical therapy, Orange County's premier pelvic floor physical therapy clinic. One of only 270 PTs to be board-certified in the pelvic floor, and the first PT to serve on the ICA Board of Directors, Nicole is the author of the acclaimed and best-selling book The Interstitial Cystitis Solution (2016). She is an adjunct professor at her alma mater, Chapman University. The PelvicSanity blog focuses on presenting practical, positive information to help patients beyond the walls of Nicole's clinic.