How the Weather Affects Your Muscles
If you are like many people, your joints will tell you when cold weather is approaching. People also like to skip their workouts when the temperature drops and may notice their muscles becoming more sore. Although much research has been done on soreness and weather changes, scientists still aren’t 100 percent sure how the two connect. Some theories explain why you feel aches when it’s colder outside. We’ve also listed some of the best stretches for lower back pain, so you don’t have to suffer this winter!
The Importance of Moving When It’s Cold
It can be rather tempting to stay indoors when it’s cold outside. Lying on the couch, bundled up in blankets, and watching movie marathons sounds much better than facing the harsh temperatures outside. Getting your body moving during the colder season is actually crucial for eliminating those aches you experience.
We all know stretching during any time of the year can increase flexibility and range of motion. That – along with moving your body – increases blood flow and helps you maintain your mobility. All of this helps warm up your joints for physical activity and reduces the chance of injury.
Stretching is especially essential when it’s cold outside because your muscles contract to conserve heat when the temperature drops. As a result, they become tighter and more prone to injury – something to keep in mind for those who like to exercise or play sports during the winter months!
Below are some of the other benefits you’ll experience when you stretch your body when it’s cold outside.
- Increase blood flow to the area
- Increase the flow of oxygen to the stiff areas
- Increase range of motion
- Improve physical function
- Improve physical and mental relaxation and wellbeing
Why Do Our Muscles and Joints Ache When It’s Cold Outside?
As previously mentioned, cold weather results in your muscles losing more heat and contracting. This causes tightness throughout your body. As your joints get tighter, your muscles can lose their range of motion. Your nerves can also be pinched easier with this lack of range of motion.
Contrary to what many might believe, you don’t necessarily need to have arthritis or other conditions to trigger muscle tightness during the winter. The effects of colder temperatures cause your muscles to work harder to do the same tasks they could easily do when it’s warmer. This may result in more damage to your muscle tissues, increasing soreness. Longer warmups before exercising could help counteract the damage.
How The Cooler Weather Affects Our Joints
Some researchers believe the cold air can indirectly make your body experience symptoms of joint and muscle discomfort that often occurs when you have a viral infection. Your body’s internal temperature rises when you’re sick to fight off the virus, and that can also result in inflammation. This inflammation can be what’s causing aches.
Another cause for pain is people’s lack of activity as they spend more time indoors. The air inside might be staler and contain viruses, which can contribute to fevers and muscle aches. People also tend to drink less water when it’s colder outside.
Keeping your muscles hydrated is crucial since water energizes them, lubricates your joints, and helps your body tolerate more pain. You’d also be surprised to find out that drinking enough water can speed up your recovery time!
Below are some of the theories researchers believe might be why our joints and muscles ache with lower temperatures.
Barometric pressure is also known as the pressure of the air. During the winter months, this pressure drops, and those who already experience joint pain can be sensitive to this change. Areas of the body that are inflamed are also believed to swell when the barometric pressure drops. These areas include the knees, hips, hands, elbows, and shoulders.
This swelling can irritate the nerves and increase your discomfort. The changes can also cause your tendons, muscles, and any scar tissue to expand and contract. That can create some discomfort in joints already affected by arthritis.
When your muscles become stiff during the colder weather, they become harder to move. This could be a reason people experience more pain. Your nervous system triggers changes in the body when it’s cooler, and your muscles tighten to constrict blood vessels.
Other factors due to the lower temperatures can also result in muscles that become stiff and achy. The motions your body holds when you bundle up during the cold weather can cause a change in your posture. For example, you may lift and hold your shoulders more tightly, slouch more, or hold your chin out.
Changes in Blood Flow
Our body naturally tries to keep us warm, and colder temperatures can cause changes in our blood flow. It reroutes from our limbs to organs like our heart and lungs, taking away warmth from those areas. That can end up causing discomfort in our joints. That’s also the reason your hands and feet are usually always freezing during the winter!
Thicker Joint Fluid
Lower temperatures also make the fluids inside your joints thicker. This fluid is known as synovial fluid, and its purpose is to lubricate the joints so they can work smoothly. It acts as a shock absorber and is often considered when examining discomfort and loss of mobility. When the cooler temperatures cause this fluid to thicken past its usual viscosity, it can’t flow to your joints like normal. As a result, they’ll feel stiffer.
The desire to go outside decreases when it’s cold outside, and people become less active because of it. The inactivity can cause your joints to become stiff and painful. We all know lack of movement already can have a toll on your body, even in warmer weather.
With all the effects the cold weather can have, your aches might intensify. If you’re physically unable to go outdoors, you can still find ways to stay active and get your body moving while you’re indoors. For example, stretching is an excellent way to be active and get your blood flowing!
Sensitivity to Weather Changes
Some people’s bodies may just be more sensitive to weather changes than others, such as those with arthritis. This condition causes the cartilage that cushions the bones inside a joint to wear away, causing nerves in the exposed bones to pick up on changes in pressure.
Colder weather can also impact your mood. If you are sad or depressed, your perception of discomfort can be magnified.
Dynamic Stretches During the Cold Weather
If you want to stretch during the colder weather, dynamic stretches can provide much more benefits than static stretching. This is because they keep you moving, make your muscles limber, and get your blood moving. All of this will keep you warmed up and ready for a workout or the cold day ahead.
Remember that warming up with dynamic stretching for longer than usual is important for when you’re working out. Below are some moves that can keep your blood flowing and reduce your winter aches. To make sure you’re completing stretches properly, you should turn to a stretch-practitioner for assistance.
Arm circles are simple warmup exercises that are ideal if you plan on doing activities like skiing or biking. These moves can do more than strengthen your shoulder muscles. They also increase the blood flow to your entire arm. The beauty of the arm circles is that they can be performed indoors if you’re worried about it being too cold outside. It’s an easy way to get an arm workout in as well.
Knee hugs are another move that can improve your balance while increasing flexibility in your glutes. They are one of the best stretches for lower back pain and hip flexor discomfort, stretching the hamstrings, hip flexors, glutes, and low back extensors. The beauty of this move is that there are several variations of it that can increase your heart rate, core body temperature, and range of motion.
Knee hugs are also known to open the capillaries and lubricate the joints, something you want when the cold weather causes stiffness.
They are great for challenging your balance and core stability when you do them standing up, and it’s a great move for joint mobility. This movement can strengthen and tone your quadriceps, calves, and ankle joints. It’s great for when you feel stiffness in those areas because of the cold weather.
Shoulder rolls are a simple exercise that provides numerous benefits! Doing this move can increase the range of motion in your shoulders and upper back while improving your posture and releasing throat tension. Shoulder rolls work the trapezius muscles located on either side of your neck.
Strengthening and toning them can make activities like lifting, reaching, bending, and sitting more efficient and much safer. If you’re looking for a good stabilization and strengthening exercise to do indoors while it’s cold, you can add some light weights to this move.
Leg kicks are a great dynamic warmup to work your hamstrings while stretching your hip flexors. The beauty of this stretch is that it can also double as a cardio workout and can boost your performance! It’ll surely put your legs and glutes to work. You’re also activating your core muscles, since they have to tighten up and hold your posture tall as you kick.
The seated figure-4 helps relieve pressure and tightness in the hips, quadriceps, and lower back. All of that can amplify when you’ve been sitting all day, especially during the colder winter months. It makes it harder for the glutes to activate, which are responsible for hip movement and mobility. They also stabilize the hip joint.
Lying Supine Twist
The lying supine twist is a relaxing stretch that relieves stiffness in the spine. This stretch helps to release tension in the upper back and shoulders. Your lower back is often tight due to sitting all day, and this move is perfect for opening and releasing that area. The lying supine twist also elongates your supporting spine muscles while opening tight shoulders.
Seated Side Stretch
This easy stretch helps open up the hips, back, shoulders, and triceps. The tight muscles on the sides of our bodies can result in back and shoulder aches. The seated side stretch is also beneficial for making overhead reaching easier.
Downward Facing Dog
This is a great yoga pose for warming up the whole body. When you’re in this position, it stretches the hamstrings, calves, back, and shoulders. This move is also great for strengthening your arms, shoulders, and back. It’s an easy and effective way to get your body moving if you can’t leave the house or want to do a move that targets your whole body.
Other Simple Ways to Prevent Aggravated Muscles and Joint Pain
Preventing muscle aches in the cold weather is quite easy! You want to remember to do some dynamic stretches and stay hydrated. This ensures your muscles are ready for activity if you play sports or decide to exercise. You’ll also want to wear layers of clothing to prevent your muscles from constricting in the lower temperatures.
Since winter is a time most people get sick, you’ll also want to practice good general hygiene and health habits to avoid falling ill. That’ll definitely increase your body aches!
Some other ways to take care of yourself and your muscles during the cold weather are listed below:
- Take a warm bath
- Use a heating pad
- Seal drafts
- Don’t stay out in the cold for too long
- Pre-heat your car before driving
How Long Should You Stretch in Cold Weather?
Generally, you’ll want to warm up for about 10 minutes if the temperature outside is between 35- and 45-degrees Fahrenheit. Extend your warmup by five minutes for each 10-degree temperature drop below 35. For the best results, you should start slow and gradually pick up the pace.
Learn the Best Stretches for Lower Back Pain This Winter
Is the cold weather causing your joints and muscles to feel stiff? No need to let that keep you from going about your day! The professionals at Stretch Zone are dedicated to helping you get your body moving by offering practitioner-assisted stretches and teaching you how each move can benefit you.
Your first 30-minute session is free, so make sure to head over to a location near you! Call us if you have any questions.