Wellness Tips for Winter Aches, Pains & Sprains
Wintertime can mean many different things, depending on where you live. Perhaps, it means several feet of snow, sleet and ice, and tundra-like temperatures. Or, if you’re lucky, it could mean only a bit less sunlight and cooler evening temperatures. It’s also the time of year during which we celebrate the holidays, make more home cooked meals and take advantage of cozying up in front of a fire.
Between the cooler weather and the holidays, not to mention the pandemic, many of us will find ourselves spending a lot of time inside of our homes.
No matter your age, level of fitness, or even how frequently you venture out during the winter, there are a number of helpful things you can do in order to maintain your physical health during these cold-weather months.
Health Conditions Magnified by Cold Weather
Some people say they are able to “feel” the weather in their bones and, as it turns out, they can in some sense! This phenonom is common in people with arthritis or musculoskeletal issues. What they are actually feeling is a change in atmospheric pressure that brings about weather events.
There are a number of conditions magnified by cooler temperatures. Thankfully, most can be managed by following a few simple wellness tips for winter aches and pains.
Arthritis and Cold Weather
Sixty percent of adults in the United States with arthirtis are of working age (18 to 64 years). This condition can limit the work they are able to do and may even keep them from working.
This can be especially true in winter months, when arthritis symptoms can worsen because of swelling that takes place in people’s joints. For example, when atmospheric pressure drops (meaning, the weather gets cooler), joints can swell up, causing stiffness and aches; these symptoms are common ahead of snow storms.
Physical therapy treatment can help increase strength to better support the joints, teach proper posture and body mechanics to relieve pain during daily activities and help maintain overall fitness.
Cold Weather Headaches and Migraines
One in four U.S. households includes someone that has migraines. If you have experienced the pain that migraines cause, you know just how severe that pain can feel.
People who are prone to migraines tend to experience more episodes when dramatic changes in temperature occur. You wouldn’t necessarily think that physical therapy could be a solution to migraines, but PT can provide significant relief to those who suffer.
Through manual therapy, exercise and education, physical therapists are able to alleviate related symptoms like muscle and joint stiffness, and provide specific types of exercises aimed at decreasing pain, reducing inflammation and more.
Diabetes and Cold Weather
Diabetes is a chronic health condition and can affect people at any age. A condition characterized by difficulty regulating the body’s blood sugar levels, those with diabetes may find it challenging to navigate the holiday season and the seasonal habits that come along with it.
Additionally, people with diabetes have shown higher HbA1c levels in the winter than during warmer months. With snow, ice and frost all threatening, sugar levels can creep up while the temperature drops.
Exercise has proven to be an effective way to lower high blood sugar levels. Physical therapists have the knowledge to create customized workout plans to help people safely add physical activity to their lives.
How to Avoid Common Winter Injuries
If you reside in a part of the country that experiences more prominent winter weather, then it’s likely you’re no stranger to getting around amid snow, sleet and ice. It’s no surprise research has shown that more preventable injuries occur during winter than during any other season.
Navigating these seasonal challenges may, unfortunately, come at the price of injury. Certain populations, like senior citizens, are even at higher risk of injury because of mobility issues, reduced balance and muscle aches.
There are, however, some important tips you can put into practice in order to avoid injury this winter season.
Look Out for Black Ice
There’s ice we can see and then there’s a special type of ice more difficult to detect — black ice. If you expect to be walking in an area that potentially has ice, be sure to plan ahead and wear shoes with good rubber treads. Short steps and a slower pace are best so you can react quickly to a change in traction. Another suggestion for walking is to take a cue from our cold-weather bird friend, the penguin!
Heavy Holiday Boxes? Lift With Care!
Lifting and carrying those heavy holiday decoration boxes out of storage can be a strain on the body. In fact, improper lifting is one of the key causes of herniated discs. The good news is, this condition is completely avoidable when proper measures are taken.
When lifting, it’s important to position feet shoulder-width apart, and bend only at the hips and knees. Maintain good posture and then slowly lift while keeping your back straight.
Practice Good Posture When Shoveling Snow
Snowy landscapes can make your neighborhood feel like a winter wonderland. But shoveling the glistening white fluff can feel far from wondrous. Shoveling and muscle strain go together, especially when it comes to the low back.
To help prevent injury, take a wider than normal stance, bend the knees, tilt your hips forward and make sure your back is flat. Also, be sure to rotate between lifting and throwing the snow, and pushing or plowing it.
Stay Active — Even in the Cold — to Prevent Further Injuries or Pain
Staying home during this time of year can, for some people, bring with it reduced physical activity. This may be especially true for the millions of Americans who are still working remotely due to the coronavirus.
Maintaining physical activity throughout the year is one of the best things you can do for your health. Regular exercise can help strengthen your bones and muscles, and even improve your ability to do daily activities.
For those that don’t mind the cold weather, there are plenty of ways to get moving outside during the winter. Some examples include skiing, snowboarding, playing hockey, ice-skating, hiking, running or simply taking your dog for a walk.
If the blustery weather is a bit too much, don’t just kick back on the couch. Instead, find ways to workout inside your home. Some ideas include free workouts on YouTube, focusing on chores that are more vigorous (like vacuuming) and using your stairs for climbing in place of a step machine.
If you’d like to jumpstart your winter workout plan, our team can help! Our physical therapists can develop a personalized plan that matches your level of fitness and will help you to achieve your goals.