3 Ways to Reduce Pain When Temps Drop

We recently polled a group on Facebook and found that almost half of the group was experiencing increased joint pain as the weather gets colder. I even hear it in the gym all of the time. Squats will be a part of the workout, and some people will modify or skip them on a cold day because, “the cold weather makes my knees act up”.

Why does this happen?

The logic that says that cold weather causes joint pain is debated by scientists and medical professionals. Some research has found that reports of joint pain increased in cold weather, while other studies have found that cold weather did not have an effect on joint pain. This is probably because pain is not that simple, it is actually a complex topic. Pain is basically the check engine light of your body. Your nervous system sends the pain signal when it is over-stressed or doesn’t feel safe. People can feel pain in body parts with no damage, or in body parts where there is no problem.

So, what can cause your nervous system to feel over-stressed or unsafe?

There are many things!

Some of the most common ones that come to mind are: sleep, diet, hydration, amount of training, etc. All of the things that I just listed are important parts of recovery. Pain can happen when what you demand of your body is not equal to or less than the amount of recovery that you are doing.

Sleep is a big one. Research shows that people who get less than 8 hours of sleep are at an increased risk of injury, and if you get less than 6 hours, you have the highest risk of injury. This is the first thing that you can do to reduce pain when temperatures drop, get 8 hours of quality sleep. Some ways to help ensure that you get 8 hours of sleep is to decide the time you would like to wake up at, and calculate a bed time based on that. Try to stick to that bedtime and have a nightly routine that encourages you to get restful sleep. Some helpful things to incorporate into your nightly routine include: turning off electronics 30 minutes before bed, reading (a physical book, not electronic!), and meditation.

That brings us to the second way to reduce pain when temperatures drop: reducing stress. When we get stressed, our body releases a hormone called cortisol, which puts your body into fight or flight mode. This is beneficial when you are in an emergency situation, but harmful when you are under stress and have low levels being released regularly. Some of the effects of stress can show up as:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Aches and pains
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty recovering from exercise
  • Poor sleep

So, what can you do to reduce stress that you are aware of, or even unaware of?

It can be easy to work on stress when you know that you are going through a stressful situation such as: moving, job transition, relationship conflicts, etc. It can be harder to manage stress when you are unaware that you are even stressed. Our fast paced lifestyles often cause stress that we are unaware of, which is why mindfulness can help! Other tools that can help you manage stress are breathing practices and meditation.

The third way that you can reduce pain when temperatures drop is to just keep moving! Here at LeBauer Physical Therapy, that is our motto. We even have tee shirts with the phrase on them. A common reason that cold weather could be linked to your joint pain is the fact that people are less likely to work out when it’s chilly and damp. Movement is great for your joints because it helps lubricate them, while staying home and watching Netflix under a blanket will not. Exercise also releases endorphins to help balance out the release of stress related cortisol that we talked about earlier.

Outdoor activities such as walking, cycling, and running are great for your joints, and can be done if you dress appropriately in layers. If you do find that it is too dark or too cold, bring your workout inside and try an at-home workout! One of the great things about quarantine was that many fitness professionals shared great at home workout options, with little equipment needed.

If you find that these tips do not alleviate your joint pain, you might have something more in depth causing your pain. It could be another body part, or you might need more mobility or more strength somewhere. If you try these tips and they do not help, and you want to find out what is causing your pain, click here to apply for a total body diagnostic, or give us a call at 336-271-6677 to see if you qualify!

About The Author

Dr. Kaitlin Herzog

Dr. Herzog attended the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science. She went on to earn her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree at Wheeling Jesuit University. Kaitlin has been an athlete for most of her life and was introduced to physical therapy when she had several sports-related injuries. She decided to become a physical therapist to help others maintain an active lifestyle while staying pain free. Kaitlin uses a hands-on approach to help people of all backgrounds optimize their movement and performance. Dr. Herzog is a record-holding competitive powerlifter, and you can find her training or competing in her spare time. She also enjoys Olympic weightlifting, CrossFit, yoga, sports, hiking, baking, crafts, traveling, and exploring Greensboro with friends.​

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