Managing Body Pain in Cold Weather

Caitlin Hard
Caitlin Hard Executive Assistant at AHS

We got our first snowfall in Northern Virginia yesterday. As usual, the snow was already melted by noon. But hey, it was still exciting!

There are several effects the winter season can have on us. For example, many people are aware of the adverse effects that cold weather can have on our immune systems. But did you know that the cold weather can have a negative effect on our muscles and joints, too? There are several ways that our musculoskeletal system adapts to the cold temperatures. Understanding how our bodies adapt to the colder months and how Physical Therapy can help, can help keep you healthier this winter.

Our muscles’ natural reaction to the cold is to tighten and become stiffer. When exposed to colder temperatures, our nervous system prioritizes heat conservation for our vital organs. As a result, less blood flow and heat reaches our muscles and the surface of our bodies. Our muscles shorten to conserve heat and the prolonged contraction of muscles can cause muscles to be more sore than usual. Decreased peripheral blood flow also causes weight-bearing joints like knees, hips, and ankles to become stiffer, which can cause pain. Individuals who exercise outside, like runners, may notice the changes in their joints in cold weather. In an effort to keep ourselves warm, we also round our back and shoulders, placing a lot of stress on the back and shoulder muscles.

You certainly can’t control the weather. But you CAN make changes to your cold weather routine to reduce soreness and prevent injuries. Simple changes to your cold weather routine like dressing in layers, stretching, increased activity levels, and choosing to workout indoors are easy ways to reduce your chances of cold-weather-related soreness and injuries. Regular stretching and manual therapy appointments with your physical therapists at AHS can promote more efficient blood circulation to your body’s surface. Cold weather impacts everyone’s body differently and your physical therapists can help develop a seasonal specific treatment plan to relieve all your winter aches and pains, or modify exercise routines. 

Stay warm, do your stretches, visit your PT, and stay healthy during this upcoming winter season!

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