Summer is just about here. Say hello to barbecues, beach vacations, lazy days at the pool, baseball games, and ice cream.
Or, for those with chronic pain, summer might mean flare-ups and worsening symptoms related to the heat.
Besides the weather and extremes in temperature, there are plenty of summertime pain triggers.
Being cramped up in your car all day on your way to vacation isn’t doing any favors for your pain.
Maybe you and the kids are off for the summer and finding it difficult to stay on a wellness routine.
Nobody is on the same schedule which can make things a little chaotic, leading to some unhealthy choices.
No matter your struggle, here are some tips to help cut down on summertime pain triggers and take control of your chronic pain.
1. Stay hydrated
In the summer, our need for water increases due to the heat. Dehydration leads to fatigue, muscle cramps, headaches, and can make chronic pain symptoms worse. Our bodies already contain a lot of water so we need to keep drinking to replenish and keep our ourselves going.
Dehydration can be confusing because there are a lot of conflicting recommendations out there as to how much water we really need to drink every day. Perhaps you’ve heard the 8 glasses per day advice before?
This is probably a good rule of thumb to follow but the real test is to look at your urine. What color is it? If it’s very pale yellow, you’re likely adequately hydrated. But dark yellow or too concentrated? You need to be drinking more water. Take it easy on the soda, juice, and iced coffee and tea since they are not as hydrating as water.
Many people become dehydrated because they just don’t like the taste of boring, plain water. You can jazz up your water bottle by adding fruits or vegetables like lemons, berries, oranges, or cucumbers for a more refreshing taste.
Keep in mind that some of the foods we eat, particularly fruits and vegetables, count as water intake. Watermelon, cucumber, celery, strawberries, tomatoes, and lettuce all have very high water content (greater than ninety percent). Be sure to stay mindful of how much fruit you are eating as it does contain sugar.
2. Remain active (even on vacation)
Exercise is often recommended for those with chronic pain because exercise affects how we experience pain and helps relieve symptoms like fatigue. Generally, staying active is better for us than being sedentary.
Maybe you have a great exercise routine going and then you let loose and slack off on vacation. That momentum and inertia that you had are gone by the time you get back home. You essentially have to start all over again.
Research has shown that living an active lifestyle on a daily basis improves endurance and function. In this study of adults with arthritis, joint stiffness decreased at 6 and 12 months with an active lifestyle.
Keep your routine going by fitting in exercise on your vacation. Many hotels have a fitness area so you can get in a sweat session. Or take it outside for a walk or run in the morning or evening when the sun’s not blazing hot.
If you’re lounging by the pool, make sure to get in and swim to keep your muscles active. Swimming and water aerobics are great low impact activities for those with joint or back pain.
Get the whole family involved by taking a bike ride or hiking some new terrain. You’ll get some exercise and take in the beautiful scenery.
3. Keep cool
There is actually very little scientific evidence to suggest a connection between weather changes and back or joint pain. However, many people report that heat, humidity, and even rainfall affect their pain symptoms (for better or for worse). Also, those with chronic conditions may find it already difficult to regulate their systems so extreme changes in temperature can put a strain on the body.
In any case, use these tips to fight the heat:
- Take advantage of indoor air-conditioning, especially in high humidity
- Use ice packs for acute inflammation or pain
- Take a bike ride or walk early in the morning or later in the evening when heat at its lowest
- A dip in the pool is a great way to cool off and is a low-impact form of exercise
- If spending time outside, carry a misting fan and drink plenty of water
4. Plan ahead for travel
It’s always fun to have a little getaway from home during the summer. However, tight, cramped spaces in the car or plane and lumpy mattresses are not so fun for chronic pain.
If you’re traveling long distances in the car or on a plane, be sure to plan for plenty of rest stops on the way to give you a chance to stretch your legs and keep the blood flowing. If you’re traveling by plane, make it a point to get up and walk around periodically.
Here’s a short and sweet video about how to prevent blood clots on long flights, which is really about increasing circulation which will help keep pain at bay:
Also, when traveling by plane or car, consider bringing along a seat cushion that will help distribute weight better in the hips and provide lumbar support.
If you’re going to be doing a lot of active things outside like going to an amusement park or hiking, be sure to wear comfortable, supportive shoes. Also, consider using a walking stick; the extra support is helpful for those who have back pain or arthritis.
For those who take prescription pain medications, make sure you pack your meds in your carry on luggage rather than your checked luggage. If your luggage is lost, the last thing you want to do is try to get ahold of your doctor to try to get a new prescription in an unfamiliar place.
5. Make good food choices
While the winter holidays are more notorious for edible temptations, summer involves more outdoor celebrations which include cake, ice cream, and other treats. Not to mention the abundance of hamburgers and hotdogs at your cookouts.
Fortunately, a lot of sweet, delicious fruits are in-season during the summer months such as berries, melons, peaches, and cherries. These fruits are loaded with antioxidants and inflammation fighters. In fact, they may even help fight pain.
Research has shown that cherries have powerful anti-inflammatory properties that help fight acute and chronic pain due to inflammation. A sweet and delicious way to combat pain.
What about cookouts? Skip the saturated fat-laden cheeseburger and the processed hot dog. Research suggests that eating too many saturated fats hinders our ability to fight inflammation. Inflammation is no good for chronic pain.
Instead, reach for grilled chicken and veggie kebabs. Top it off with fresh fruit for dessert as a sweet treat.
Also, while traveling, make it a point to pack healthy snacks like fruit, veggies, and nuts so as not to be tempted by fast food and vending machines. It’s hard to eat healthy on the road and at the airport but preparing ahead for the challenge helps.
We’re cool for the summer
Summer is supposed to be a fun, exciting time of year filled with new adventures and outdoor activities. Don’t let chronic pain get in the way.
Stay on a regular exercise routine as much as possible, beat the heat with air-conditioning and fans, drink plenty of water, choose healthy foods, and plan ahead for travel.
Follow these tips and keep that summertime pain in check so you can keep going.
Meet the Author
Shannon is a nurse practitioner with an array of clinical experience. She is particularly passionate about health promotion and disease prevention. When she's not nurse practitioner-ing or writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, and yoga. You can check out her blog at https://shannonthenp.com.