For many people, summer means hot days by the pool and time for vacations. People with chronic pain, however, may find that sweltering temperatures exacerbate symptoms and lead to flare-ups. A family’s increased pace of activities can also make lifestyle changes related to pain management, such as eating healthy, difficult to maintain. Here are some tips on staying healthy and managing summertime chronic pain.
1. Stay cool to reduce summertime chronic pain
Avoid the heat on particularly hot days by staying inside. You can go see a movie to take advantage of the air conditioning if you find it difficult to maintain cool indoor temperatures at home. If you like to exercise outside by taking a walk or riding a bike, amend your schedule. Complete the activity in the early morning or late evening hours when the sun is not at its peak strength.
Although there is limited scientific evidence for heat increasing discomfort related to summertime chronic pain, doctors say anecdotal evidence linking the two is strong. Dr. John Pappas, medical director for Royal Oak, Michigan’s Beaumont Center for Pain Medicine, tells Everyday Heath:
“Heat and humidity affect people with chronic pain because patients with these conditions have difficultly regulating their system with extreme changes of temperature and moisture in the air.”
Pappas adds that high levels of heat may also influence the levels of ozone in the air, which could also affect the quality of life for people with disorders like fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Ozone is produced when certain chemicals, including motor vehicle exhaust and emissions from industrial facilities, react with the sunlight. High levels can make it hard to breathe and may make it difficult for people living with chronic pain.
Pollution also increases inflammation, according to research published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, which worsens chronic pain. To minimize the effects of ozone, try to avoid spending large periods of time outdoors when levels are high.
2. Eat healthy amidst summer barbecues
Although summer is not a holiday-ridden season like the winter months, summer does tend to involve more outdoor celebrations punctuated by cake and other tasty, but unhealthy confections. Fortunately, hot summer weather is perfect for berries, melons, peaches, and other juicy fruit that tastes like candy but is a whole lot healthier.
These fruits are chock full of important anti-oxidants and inflammation fighters. These can help you manage pain throughout the warm summer months. For example, you might take advantage of summer cherry season. Studies have found that cherries contains powerful pain-fighting and inflammation-reducing compounds, according to research completed by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.
This may be the tastiest tip for reducing your summertime chronic pain.
3. Plan ahead for road trips
Long summertime road trips feature great scenery, but sitting in confined spaces for long periods of time may leave you feeling cramped and painful. To make the most of your summer travel plans, schedule plenty of rest stops to allow for walking around and stretching your muscles. Walking around helps get the blood flowing again, improving circulation and reducing the likelihood of painful flare-ups.
Consider packing a cooler full of healthy snacks and light meals, such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chopped fruit or vegetables, nuts, or pretzels. Finding healthy meals on the road can be tricky, and preparing for the challenge ahead of time will leave you ready.
If your family members like listening to talk radio, try to negotiate for music instead. A study published in the United Kingdom’s Journal of Advanced Nursing found that listening to music helps reduce chronic pain by up to 20%. Turning up the tunes also reduced feelings of depression among study subjects.
Another consideration for road trips is making sure you have a comfortable seat. Using a special cushion might well prepare you for hours on the road. You might also bring a blanket along to compensate for an air conditioning induced chill and pack a pillow in case the urge to nap strikes.
4. Keep exercising—even on vacation
One of the biggest reasons summertime chronic pain flares up is because of a disrupted exercise schedule. When out of town, the temptation is to completely let loose and forsake your routine. The problem is that those exercise routines are hard-won, as you probably know. It takes time to get in a routine, and any inertia you had when going into the trip is lost when you come back. You essentially have to start all over.
So if you have developed an exercise routine, the easiest way to keep it going is to continue exercising on vacation. Most hotels have workout facilities for sneaking in a sweat. But why not have fun with your exercise activity and include the whole family? You might go for a hike or bike ride to explore new terrain. You could also take an evening stroll throughout the downtown area of a city.
Incorporating exercise into your vacation allows you to experience the locale in an entirely new way all while enjoying the benefits of good health and exercise. And since anxiety can also flare up during the summer, this can be another way to manage those symptoms.
5. Plan ahead for medications
If you’re taking any medications to manage chronic conditions, make sure you have enough of a supply to make it through the trip before leaving town. This is good practice for over-the-counter medications you take, as well. It’s always better to travel with the medications that you need rather than look for a pharmacy in an unfamiliar place.
Having commonly used medications at your disposal will also give you peace of mind going into the trip so you can relax and know that everything is taken care of.
6. Stay hydrated
Good hydration is essential for surviving summertime chronic pain, in humid and dry climates alike. The body is composed of 60% water, and dehydration can lead to fatigue and general system distress.
Frequently cited is the advice to drink 8, 8-ounce glasses of water each day. Mayo Clinic says that amount is fine, especially considering that food, particularly fruits and vegetables, contains about 20% of a person’s daily water intake. Keep in mind that if you’re out in hot weather, exercising, or participating in other water-consuming activities, you will likely need to drink larger quantities of water to stay hydrated.
Many people don’t stay hydrated enough because they don’t like the taste of water. They may turn to sodas or juice instead. While they have water content, they’re not as hydrating as plain water.
If you are turned off by boring water you can enhance it by creating infusions. Common additions to water are berries, citrus fruit, or refreshing cucumber. You can add these directly to the water or freeze them in ice cubes to add to a glass or bottle on the go. Some people also prefer sparking or bubbling water over still water.
7. Avoid dehydration
For many patients, dehydration can lead to more serious summertime chronic pain symptoms. This is especially true for conditions like migraine and headaches.
Part of the reason dehydration is so confusing is because of the facts and figures that people often cite when discussing the issue. They can be hard to decipher, understand, and even live up to. As of 2013 it was estimated that nearly 75% of people are chronically dehydrated. There are so many recommendations about how much water an individual should consume a day that confusion is very common. On top of that, many people eschew water for sugary sodas and other beverages that don’t provide the same hydrating properties as good old fashioned H20.
The best way to determine if you’re getting enough water each day is to monitor your urine. This easy color test can give you an idea if you need to up your intake at any point. Ideally, your urine should be a very pale yellow. Dark urine could indicate not only dehydration but other more concerning medical problems.
Dehydration is a real concern for far too many people. Remaining chronically under-hydrated can lead to long-term medical problems if not addressed. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are very real possibilities especially for dehydrated individuals who are engaging in physical activity. It can also cause brain swelling, seizures, low blood volume shock, kidney failure, and death.
Patients dealing with the effects of a variety of summertime chronic pain conditions should monitor their fluid intake and discuss the proper, healthy amounts of water with their doctors.
Signs of dehydration and heat sickness
The best way to avoid dehydration during these hot summer months is to know what to look out for and intervene at the slightest signs of distress. Here are some of the ways you can spot signs of dehydration and heat sickness in yourself or others.
This can occur for a number of reasons but the most common is a lack of hydration. If your mouth feels sticky and you’re not producing enough natural lubricating fluids it is probably time to up the water intake.
Excessive tiredness is also a sign of dehydration. This is very visible in children who tend to have a lot of energy to burn off during a sunny day outside. If they are tired during the day for no reason you might want to be concerned.
For years, experts have suggested that by the time your body is thirsty you’re already dehydrated. It is best not to let yourself feel thirsty but if you do, drink water immediately. If the water doesn’t satiate the thirst you may have extreme dehydration.
Low urine volume
Far too many people actually look at visits to the toilet as an inconvenience. They may avoid drinking fluids so they can skip going to the bathroom during a busy day. This is very dangerous behavior. If you are unable to produce enough urine, you are dehydrated.
Dry and flaky skin is common any time of year and it means your skin isn’t moisturized enough. Proper hydration is important to maintain good skin health. If lotion isn’t helping, you may need more water.
Dizziness and fainting
If you feel light-headed or faint when you’re hot this may be a sign of dehydration. Sit down, drink water, and see if the feeling passes. Otherwise, you may need to head to the ER.
Fever or high body temperature
If you have no other symptoms of sickness that typically causes a fever but your body temperature is higher than average, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Some people, when faced with extreme dehydration or heat stroke, may experience hallucinations. If you see this in others, take immediate medical action. If someone is extremely dehydrated they may need medical intervention to recover. They can be given intravenous fluids. This helps hydrate the body faster and in a way that won’t upset the stomach.
What tips do you have for managing summertime chronic pain?
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