We are often asked if winter can make joints feel more painful or stiff. Some people claim they can tell what the weather will be like that day simply by how their joints feel. When treating patients we notice that more of them maintain their spine in the winter months to stop them from feeling stiff.
Why could this happen?
There are several possible factors:
Posture – we hunch ourselves up when cold, making muscles tighter and less mobile. We also know that warm muscles are longer and more flexible this is why we ‘warm up’ before exercising to avoid injury.
Vitamin D – In summer we have more vitamin D exposure, which fortifies our bones and cartilage. Some research suggests that osteoarthritis patients with low levels of Vitamin D experience a worsening of their symptom.
Joint fluid – Another theory is that joint fluid responds to cold temperatures in much the same way as the oil in your car. When it gets cold it increases the viscosity or thickness making it more difficult to move until it is warm.
One of our theories for the increase in stiffness and muscle tension in our patients during winter is that it is due to the way you move in winter that changes how your joints work. When you walk along a muddy or icy track do you take long strides? No, because you are more likely to slip, so you alter your steps to be smaller putting more stress through your knees and hips. Footwear in winter also changes, are you wearing wellies more? are they as supportive as they should be? Equally when you are cold you might hunch your shoulders this can increase the stress on those muscles, pulling on any vulnerable back and neck joints to create more aches and pains.
What can I do to help?
Muscles have a great blood supply and need movement and heat to be more flexible. Using your muscles in regular exercises can help your flexibility, boost your circulation and improve your mood. This could be in the form of regular home core exercises or going to the gym. Stretching your hips and legs out after a winter walk could also help to mitigate the shorter steps and keep you flexible during the cold months. Taking a supplement of vitamin D is advisable in winter as the lower light levels reduce your exposure. Vitamin D is essential to bone and cartilage health as well as for supporting your immune system.
In our practice we agree that the colder months do seem to create more pain in our patients especially in joints that are already worn. We believe that with the right combination of exercise, vitamins and regular Chiropractic care during these colder times can keep your joints from feeling as stiff and get them ready for the coming spring.