During the winter, Sarah Alexander-Georgeson is confronted with her worst fibromyalgia trigger: the cold. No matter how many layers she wears or how high she’s turned up the heating, her shivering can cause a fibro flare.
Thankfully, her boyfriend and puppy and more than willing to cuddle and share their body heat! Today, Sarah explores her fibromyalgia struggles in the winter season.
My fibromyalgia causes widespread pain, extreme sensitivity, stiffness, fatigue, cognitive issues, headaches, poor sleep quality, and much more. Symptoms of the disease can vary from person to person and are debilitating for many.
For example, stress is a common culprit for affecting symptoms. But as the winter draws in, I'm again reminded how much weather changes affect me every year.
As soon as there is a slight chill in the air, my body notices it, and my pain levels change drastically.
The cold nags at my joints while I sleep
I first notice it when I'm in bed. My knees hurt more than usual; they are stiffer and achier, and I'm aware of them while still half-asleep. This means my nights are often interrupted because the pain has (once again) affected my quality of rest. The next day, my joints are particularly stiff and uncomfortable, and it takes me a while to get moving.
The NHS states that some fibromyalgia patients cannot regulate their body temperature. This means we can't warm up as quickly as someone without the condition, no matter how heated the room is. And let me tell you, this is one of my most frustrating fibromyalgia symptoms. I absolutely hate it.
I'll be wrapped in bed wearing fleece pyjamas, a dressing gown, a hat, scarf, gloves, and fluffy socks. The electric blanket is on, but I also have a thick duvet and another blanket. Guess what? I'll still be shivering and in pain for hours. Nothing will warm me up.
Inside or outside, intense cold triggers my fibro symptoms
The cold air chills me to the bone, leaving me unable to get warm. It is like I am frozen at the core, and no amount of heat or warm swaddling can help me. Even inside my gloves, my hands are freezing. My feet are like ice inside of my socks. It's the strangest sensation as you think all these things would make you heat up straight away. In my case, it can take hours.
As a wheelchair user, I'm not moving when I am out and about outdoors. I make sure I'm layered up to the max, but I know the icy air will find a way in. No matter how many woolly items I wear or how thick a blanket I drape over me, I'll come home and my teeth are chattering. I can't control it.
It happens every time I go out during the winter. The cold makes me hurt. My boyfriend will be with me, usually without a coat (as he runs warm), and he's perfectly fine. Meanwhile, I'm in bed as soon as we get through the front door, making a nest out of piles of fleece, wool, and polyester. I just want to feel halfway comfortable.
Heat therapy items are hit or miss
The cold and fibro pain together make an awful combo. With fibro pain, any movement can send pain ribboning down my joints. And, as my joints are already stiff because of the winter cold, the shivering exacerbates the pain, thus falling into a vicious cycle. No matter what, I'm never the winner.
I've tried using heat therapy items, but they can be hit or miss for me. I like the control that comes with an electric blanket, which I keep on a low setting. If I turn it up too high (which can be tempting when I want to warm up faster), it can overstimulate the skin, making me itchy and uncomfortable.
I used to have a hot water bottle but found the lack of temperature control meant it felt like it was scalding me. I've used heat pads that stick onto the body when out in and about, but I don't get enough warmth from them to be any real benefit.
In my case, human contact is the most effective way of warming up. If my boyfriend isn't around, I use what I affectionately call my "hot water puppy," aka my dog, Teddy.
My boyfriend and dog don’t mind sharing their body heat
Cuddling up to my boyfriend or dog takes away the biting chill - as long as I also pile on everything cosy that I own. My boyfriend and dog seem to radiate a lovely, natural heat, and they don't mind sharing it!
I notice a significant difference in my fibromyalgia pain during the colder months. I am struggling a lot trying to combat the chill, but I'm still experimenting to find the things that will work for me.
Whether you prefer layering up with the blankets or taking heat therapy to a new level, stay as warm as you can this winter. I know your joints will thank you for it.
NPS-IE-NP-00663 January 2023