Around September, with autumn approaching, we start to notice a sudden dip in temperature and we know that the colder and wetter weather is well and truly on its way. Many patients feel that the cold weather makes their joint and muscle pain worse, particularly knees, hips and lower back. Many patients feel that their pain is worse during the autumn and winter months than it is during the warmer summer months.
In this blog we will look at some of the evidence for and against this phenomenon and give you some tips on how to deal with it.
The body has very efficient insulation, such that the inner core temperature of our bodies only varies a small amount even with quite extreme external temperatures. This is to protect the body’s cells, which can only function and survive within quite a narrow temperature range. Whilst the temperature in our extremities (arms and legs) may vary more than our core, the depth of joints such as the knee and hip as well as the warmth created from muscle activity means that these joints rarely suffer from injury directly from the cold – almost all direct tissue injury from extreme cold will be the toes and fingers (and nose) which can all get dangerously cold in extreme weather without the right protective clothing. The temperature inside our muscles and joints varies far less even in extreme cold weather and is unlikely to be the direct source of our pain.
Further to this discussion, if the outside cold temperature is the direct cause of pain, we would expect to see greater levels of reported musculoskeletal pain in colder countries and less in countries with warmer climate. Studies into global prevalence of pain show Australia, America, Spain and Mexico coming highest in overall levels of pain reporting whilst countries with a cooler climate such as Norway, Finland, Poland and the UK showing significantly lower levels of reported pains overall (GSK Global Pain Index 2017 Global Research Report).
So, what is it about colder weather that might make our pains worse? A number of hypothesis have been put forward.
Cold weather makes people less active
We know that during the summer months people generally become far more active. Lighter evenings and lighter mornings mean that people are much more likely to go out and exercise. We spend much more time outside and therefore everyone’s activity level tends to be greater. We know that exercise can be very good for joint pain and this may be a significant contributing factor to people’s perception of their symptoms being better in the summer and worse in the winter.
We know that the weather and the levels of daylight can have a significant impact on our mood. In most extreme cases, people can suffer seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which means that they suffer from depression during the winter months. However, even without this, many people feel happier and more optimistic during the summer and they feel generally sadder and less optimistic during the winter months. We know that mood can have a significant impact on pain, and therefore this could be another contributing factor to people’s symptoms.
Extreme weather, such as wet and snow
If our joints are painful then we can be much more susceptible to pain caused by small slips and skids as we walk along the pavement. Wet weather and snow can obviously make walking outside more treacherous, both on the hard ground and on softer ground in parks. Again, this could be a possible contributing factor.
So, what steps can we make to help?
- Stay active during the winter months and keeping your spirits high and feeling positive.
- Consider indoor activities such as dancing, sports clubs, indoor tennis, indoor cricket and indoor football, swimming, or simply going to the gym or a Pilates class.
- Wrap up dry and warm. Advances in fabric technologies mean that nowadays many sports can be performed all year round, e.g. running and cycling, without fear of getting cold or wet.
- Plan ahead. It’s often easy to opt for staying in the warm when it’s dark, wet and cold outside, so make sure you fill your calendar with lots of activities, indoor or outdoor, to keep you active. Arranging to exercise with friends makes you more likely to stick to your plans. Why not even treat yourself to an active winter break or spa weekend to reward yourself?
By keeping fit and active you are far less likely to have a slip or a trip, keeping you healthy and also reducing your risk of injury through the winter months.
Try to use our top-tips above to stay active this winter. If you are feeling musculoskeletal pains we recommend that if the pain has been present for more than a week or if it’s directly related to activity such as running then if the pain occurs more than 2-3 times when performing that activity and doesn’t seem to be getting better then its advisable to get yourself assessed by a physiotherapist. They will be able to direct you on treatment and management that will keep you active all the way through until the summer!
If you have any other questions and would like to speak to us directly about an injury or condition, call us today on 020 74823875. Or, pop over to our contact page, where you can leave a question.