Why does the cold weather make my body ache?
After the daylight savings time took place, I spoke to my dad and he said, "My knees are acting up again. Cold weather must be around the corner." Sure enough, the next morning, our usual 80 degree California winter weather immediately dropped to 68 degrees. ( Yes, 68 degrees is cold for most Californians). Is it possible that people can actually predict an approaching cold weather by how much pain their bodies feel? In a December 2016 SELF magazine interview, Lauren Farrell, physical therapist and clinic director of Professional Physical Therapy in New Jersey, elaborates that during the Fall and Winter season, pain is "most common in weight bearing joints, like the knees, hips, and ankles."
Orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists and especially chiropractors can also vouch that when it gets cold, a few things happen to the body. Firstly, muscle tissues shrink and pull on nerve endings attached to them, leading to joint inflammation. Secondly, during cold weather, the body instinctively wants to conserve heat. With the heart and lungs being the heat source, blood is is sent to that central part of our body to try to maintain heat. This results in blood vessels constricting in the extremities and along the spine. With less blood flow, you may feel discomfort in these areas. I hope that knowing the science behind your pain will help you understand how to get help.
Additionally, when it comes to neck, shoulder, arm, and back pain, cold temperatures that surround us make us tend to shrug our shoulders and sit for hours hunching our bodies in a concave position as our instinctive nature to conserve heat. (See picture above). If you do this everyday, do you find yourself having a "crook in your neck," or worse, debilitating pain? Fortunately, there are solutions!
When my patients ask me how they can prevent joint pain during the cold winter months, Here are a few of my helpful tips:
1. See your Chiropractor!
Often times, joint pain can be debilitating, to the point where we can't hold pencils, type on computers, lift or carry, or not complete our daily work duties. Instead of using muscle relaxers and addictive pain pills, there is a better way to help restore function to the spine and extremities. My technique to help you relieve these pains is to apply specific chiropractic adjustments to trigger points that can help normalize and stabilize spinal structure and function. When a joint is unstable, the body tends to collect calcium deposits in or around these unstable joints to protect it. Regular chiropractic treatments will reduce and eliminate the body's need to do this. Ultimately, this will allow more blood to flow into affected joints and trigger points, thus relieving your pain.
2. Bundle Up!
Stay warm and bundle up areas in your body that are prone to pain. This includes wearing a warm coat and bundling up your neck with a cozy and comfortable scarf. In doing this, your muscles and nerves stay warm and can also help decrease muscle contractions around their nerve endings, thus minimizing the pain you feel.
3. Stay Hydrated!
Are you hydrating your muscles and organs enough? Nutritionists recommend that women drink 91 ounces of water daily and men drink 125 oz. Water is an essential tool that helps lubricate the joints and spine. Drinking water will hydrate these areas, help your body withstand external conditions, as well as help you maintain and support exaggerated positions that you do throughout the day for a longer period of time. Such activities include lifting, carrying, lifting, carrying, sitting down and typing this blog!. Regarding hydration, sugary liquids, coffee, lattes, etc. do not apply! They will dehydrate you more than hydrate. Just stick to the simple stuff- H2O. (Watch out for a future article about your health and water).
4. Watch your Posture!
Avoid shrugging, hunching over, or hugging your body for long periods of time. Make sure you get up, move, and do stretches in the office or your work area throughout the day. Doing so will ensure that your muscles and joints receive enough blood flow and mobility.
Exercising regularly will help you avoid the effects of stagnant joints. When you don't move your muscles or joints regularly, they will stiffen and make it more painful when you do move them. To get the most healthful benefits of exercise during the cold winter months, I recommend activities like swimming in a heated pool, pilates, yoga, or working outside or inside a gym. If gyms aren't your thing, then please wear proper attire for working out in the cold.
6. Limit and avoid sugar!
Winter time brings with it holiday dinners with family and friends. These gathering are often places where we are bombarded with love and too many sweets! If after the holidays you find yourself feeling bloated, lethargic, having a crook in your neck or having back spasms, then you are experiencing inflammation. When you eat sugar, this elevates insulin levels that lead to inflammation and increased pain. This is a topic that needs to be described more in detail, so stay tuned for a future post!
To conclude, the cold temperatures of winter are inevitable,no matter where you are. If you are prone to back aches and joint pain during the winter months, take time to arm yourselves with the right information. You will feel better equipped to take control of your outcomes.
Thank you for stopping by my blog! Happy New Year to you and your loved ones.
And as always, to your good health!
Dr. Michael Howell