The colder temperatures appear here to stay for a while in Minnesota, and even though we’ll be donning winter coats and staying curled up in a blanket more often over the next few months, the cold weather can take a toll on our muscles, joints and our entire body. Joint pain and muscle stiffness can make winter a little less enjoyable, which is why you’ll want to be deliberate in how you approach the season. In today’s blog, we share some physical therapist-approved tips for combating cold weather-related pain.
Fighting Back Against Cold Weather Muscle And Joint Pain
When we’re cold, our muscles naturally start to contract, making them tighter and more rigid. This may not be very obvious at the time, but this natural contraction can lead to muscle soreness and aches if you’re exposed to colder temperatures on a regular basis for extended periods. For anyone that lives in Minnesota, we often face these temperatures for almost half the year, and many of us enjoy the seasonal activities that the cold weather provides us with. However, we still need to be smart about how we approach the winter season if we want to do right by our body and avoid injury.
Dress Well & Stretch
Right out of the gate, two things you’ll want to do this winter is to dress appropriately for the weather and take a couple of minutes to stretch if you’re going to be outside shoveling snow or walking the dog. Wearing the right clothes for the conditions can help keep muscles from contracting because they’re exposed to the elements, and gentle stretching can help muscles make the transition from inactive to an active state before our bodies are exposed to the elements. Preparing for activity in ideal conditions is better for your muscles and joints than if you wait until you’re outside to try and warm them up.
Next, it’s also imperative that you keep moving during the cold winter months. When we hear of the effects the cold weather can have on our bodies, our natural inclination may be to nestle in with a blanket in front of a warm fire and wait until spring thaws everything out. But that can be even more problematic for our muscles and joints than heading outside this time of year.
When we’re not challenging our bodies through exercise and movements, tissues and joints can atrophy or deteriorate, making them less able to function optimally. Our bodies crave movement and thrive with it, so we need to stay active even when all we want to do is stay curled up on the couch. You can head downstairs and jump on the elliptical or do a 30-minute workout in your living room so that you don’t have to head outside, but you need to find ways to stay active this winter. Inactivity puts us at a higher risk for injury when we do need to rely on our bodies to handle stress, so keep moving and exercising during the winter.
Take it Slow
Another tip to consider this winter is to take it slow when you’re getting back into winter activities. Winter in Minnesota provides us with the opportunity to do a number of things that we can’t do all year round, like sledding, snowboarding, ice skating and snowmobiling. Even though you may enjoy these activities and have a lot of experience, ease back into activity. The muscles and ligaments that you rely on during these activities likely haven’t faced this much direct strain in many months, so if you try to play a 90-minute game of pond hockey or hit the black diamonds on the ski slopes on your first afternoon back on skis since last March, you could overload or overstress these areas. Warm up and slowly increase your intensity and duration so that you don’t suffer an overstress injury.
Finally, make sure to take care of your body this winter with some other simple steps. Soak in a warm bath if joints and muscles are aching after a long day outside, drink plenty of water so that healthy blood can circulate more easily, and eat a healthy diet to maintain your weight so that you don’t end up gaining weight and putting more stress on your bones and soft tissues. And of course, if you’re dealing with acute or chronic soreness in a muscle or joint, treat the problem head on with the help of a physical therapist. In the greater Twin Cities area, the team at OrthoRehab Specialists would love to help. Give our team a call today at (612) 339-2041.