How to Best Protect Your Muscles and Joints during Cold Winter Months

Feeling a little stiffer after a day in the office now that autumn has turned to winter? Does it take your arms and legs a little longer to wake up when you’re preparing for your workout? Is your uncle complaining that his knee hurts so a storm must be coming? Well the good news is that you’re not alone. These are all just symptoms of wintertime cold weather and its effect on the human body.


The effects of cold on your muscles:

When temperatures drop, muscles contract more slowly because oxygen is not transferred to the muscle cells as efficiently. This means your muscles need to work harder to produce at their normal levels, raising the risk of muscle tears and injury. Muscles are also not as likely to receive the normal amount of attention and exercise because the cold weather forces people indoors and into a more sedentary lifestyle. Finally, cold weather can numb sensory mechanisms so that it’s harder to feel when you may be pushing certain muscle groups too hard during workouts. This can lead to serious injury as well.

How to minimize these effects:

  • Warm up and stretch before workouts. This is always important, but it’s even more so when your muscles are cold and stiff from the weather.
  • Stretching prior to the workout should be more aerobic and cardio focused. While great post-workout, static stretching prior to can actually cause your muscles to tighten more from the strain.
  • Dress warmly and cover your extremities. The body’s thermoregulatory mechanics highly prioritize internal organs, so you need to pick up the slack when it comes to keeping your arms, legs, fingers, toes, and ears warm and safe.
  • Eat high-energy foods. Make sure you’re getting your daily servings of protein for quicker and more effective muscle recovery time. Also try to stay hydrated and eat foods rich in B Vitamins and iron.


The effects of cold on your joints:

The effects of cold weather on your body’s joints are tougher to definitively prove than cold weather’s effects on your muscles, but there is a generally universal consensus that they do exist. The most stereotypical one is cold weather causing more pain for people suffering from arthritis. Changes in the weather cause the arthritis to flare up, oftentimes allowing the person to predict weather changes before they actually happen. The most widely accepted explanation for this phenomena centers around barometric pressure, which is essentially the pressure that Earth’s atmosphere is applying to us at all times. Weather changes cause the barometric pressure to rise and fall which makes the inflamed arthritis tissue expand and contract causing the pain.


How to minimize these effects:

  • Dress warm. Exposure to cold can cause your muscles to contract which leads to joint issues.
  • Take warm baths, hot tubs, or swims in heated pools. The heat loosens up your muscles, and swimming may be the best way to get a great workout while applying the least amount of stress to your joints.
  • Consider Vitamin D supplements. Arthritis pain and Vitamin D deficiency have been linked, so make sure you’re getting enough of it in your diet.
  • Use a heating pad during periods of inactivity. A little focused heat on a painful joint can loosen up the surrounding muscles, widen the veins, and increase blood flow to the troubled spot.