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The Aches and Pains of Winter

The importance of caring for, and listening to, your body

By Jillian Chandler

It can happen to the best of us. Our muscles and joints begin to ache as we find ourselves in the midst of the cold season. Unfortunately, the reasons for this are undetermined due to the lack of research, but experts do have theories to what causes these seasonal aches and pains. Some suggest that because our bodies conserve heat when it’s cold, more blood is sent to the organs in the center of the body, such as the heart and lungs. In turn, blood vessels in the arms, legs, shoulders and knee joints will constrict. These areas then become colder and stiffer due to less blood flow—which can cause pain and discomfort.

Another common theory is that changes in barometric pressure when it is cold and/or damp may cause an inflammatory response in the joints, resulting in increased joint pain as a result of changes in circulation.

Whether these responses are actually occurring in the body is unknown due to the lack of evidence. But there is no denying that there is a correlation between lower temperatures and stiffer muscles, ligaments and joints. Cold-weather joint pain is most common in the knees, hips and ankles.

We can’t control the weather, but we do have some control over our bodies and how to best protect it against the elements this winter season.

Though the cold entices us to want to hunker down at home under a warm blanket while streaming our favorite movies, it is important to take the time to exercise your body, keeping it moving and limber. Staying active is beneficial for both the function and mobility of your body, whereas a decrease in range of motion is more likely to result in more joint pain.

In addition, it is easy to put on weight when your activity level lessens. This adds extra stress to your body, especially the knees, resulting in additional aches and pains.

No matter your age, stretching is an important habit to include in your daily life. Begin your day with a light stretch, prior to your warm-up before exercising (especially if you plan to work out outdoors), after a workout and before heading to bed. By stretching your body, you are aiding in keeping your joints active—and preventing, or helping to alleviate, pain. If at any time your body is signaling to you that certain movements or exercises are uncomfortable, and even painful, listen to it, and discontinue the activity.

During these colder, damper months, it is important that you keep the core body temperature warm. Dress appropriately for the weather, keeping hands and feet warm and dry. And be sure to keep moving, keeping the blood flowing and moving throughout your entire body.

Some tips to help with those winter aches include exercising indoors where it’s warm or in a heated indoor pool, which is a great for joint-friendly fitness; applying a heat (or ice) pad for 10 to 20 minutes to the affected body part; using over-the-counter creams, heat gels and other rub-on remedies to the sensitive area; and incorporating supplements that have been shown to help relieve pain, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, vitamin C, B3 and E.

If the cooler weather is leaving you with aches and pains that continue to persist, affecting your overall quality of life, it is best to reach out to your health-care provider.

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