Pain and Injuries in the Cold Winter Months
By: Monika Twardzik-Roberts, PT
Winter seems like it’s officially here. With a seemingly mild start, the recent snow and cold temperatures make many want to stay inside and hibernate… cuddle up by the fire with a good book, watch a movie and drink hot cocoa… While these are great activities to enjoy during the winter months, making time for movement is especially important this winter as the COVID pandemic makes it easier than ever to stay sedentary for long periods of time. Finding ways to exercise and maintain healthy habits are essential to promoting a healthy well-being. The challenges of COVID have many people not feeling comfortable going to their usual public indoor exercise facilities like gyms, group fitness classes, etc. This has taken many more people outdoors for their exercise, but why do so many people have more joint pain and injuries in the winter months, and how can you decrease risk of pain/injury and find relief?
Cold weather can be especially hard on people with arthritis. The barometric pressure drops when the weather gets cold. When the pressure drops, the tissues in your joints slightly expand, which can result in increased joint pain. Synovial fluid is the shock-absorbing fluid inside the joint. The consistency is often compared to that of an egg white, allowing for unencumbered movement of your joints. In colder temperatures, the fluid thickens, resulting in stiffness or the inability for your joints to flow freely. Further, people with previous injuries may find increased pain due to nerve hypersensitivity in the cold weather.
Even those without previous pain or arthritis may find themselves at greater risk for injury. The colder temperatures impair your body’s ability to function at peak efficiency since more energy is required to maintain a normal body temperature. The limb muscles lose more heat as the body does whatever it takes to ensure your core body temperature is consistent in order to protect your vital organs. This puts the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in our legs and arms at greater risk for injury. The colder temperatures can also adversely affect the efficiency of our muscle performance as nerve impulses occur more slowly under cooler conditions. Slower reaction times due to less efficient muscle performance can lead to a higher rate of injury. Our bodies work best at an optimal temperature, so colder weather (and too hot for that matter) causes a decline in our exercise performance, especially when we are not conditioned to these temperatures.
In order to protect your body and decrease the risk of pain and/or injury as we head into the colder temperatures, warm up your muscles sufficiently, dress in layers that can be easily removed or added if you get too warm or cold, protect your head, hands, feet, and ears, and stay hydrated. Pay attention if your body starts to shiver, as this tends to be the earliest sign of potentially dangerous cold exposure. Diet can also play a part in pain due to the inflammatory nature of many foods and beverages. This is just the tip of the iceberg so to speak but can get you thinking about healthy choices for a healthy you in 2022! If you do experience an injury, old or new, don’t hesitate to contact me for personalized treatment and specialized care.