Why Does My Body Ache During Cold Weather?
After the daylight savings time took place, I spoke to my father and he said.“My knees and back are acting up again. It must be getting colder. ”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 pain and inflammation. Secondly, during cold weather, the body has the instinct to want to conserve heat. Being the heat source, blood is sent to the the heart and lungs 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 and pain in these areas.
Additionally, when it comes to neck, shoulder, arm, and back pain, cold temperatures inside or outside make us tend to shrug our shoulders, sit for hours hunching our bodies in a concave position as our instinctive nature for to conserve heat. (See picture above). If you do this everyday, do you find yourself having a crook in the neck” or worse, debilitating pain? 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, and not complete our daily work duties overall. Instead of using muscle relaxers and addictive pain pills, there is a better way to help restore function in the spine and extremities! My technique for helping you relieve these pains is to apply specific chiropractic adjustments to trigger points that can help normalize spinal structure and function. When a joint is unstable, the body shores up calcium deposits in or around the area to protect it. Regular chiropractic treatments will reduce and eliminate the body’s need to 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 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 this way, your muscles and nerves stay warm and can also help muscles not contract as much around their nerve endings, thus minimizing the pain you might feel.
3. Stay Hydrated!
Are you hydrating your muscles and organs enough? The Food and Nutrition Board recommends that women drink 91 ounces of water daily and men drink 125. 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 exaggerated positions that you do throughout the day for a longer period of time. Such activities include lifting, carrying, sitting down and typing a blog, just to name a few. Regarding hydration, sugary liquids, coffee, lattes, etc do not apply. They will dehydrate you more than hydrate. Just stick to the simple stuff. H2O. (For more on how water can be great resource for pain relief. Watch out for a future article where I will discuss this topic in more detail.)
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 of 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 recommended activities like swimming in a heated pool, pilates, yoga, or working out inside a gym. If gyms aren’t your thing, then please wear proper attire for working out in the cold.
6. Limit or cut out sugar intake!
Winter time brings with it holiday dinners with family and friends. These gatherings are often locations where one is 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, especially processed sugar, it 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.
The cold temperatures of winter are inevitable no matter where you are. However, 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 be better equipped to take control of your outcomes.
Have a safe and pain free winter!
Yours in good health,
– Dr. Michael Howell, DC