Cold hands holding a cup of takeaway coffee

How and why cold weather affects your injury and pain

Many of my patients report a significant increase of pain during the winter. If you have ever had an injury, trauma, or arthritis in the cold months, you would have likely noticed more pain in the cold months. Wonder why?

Blood Vessels Constrict

Cold weather causes the blood vessels in the hands and extremities to constrict or become smaller. This is a protective reaction that allows the re-direction the blood to the center of the body supplying blood to the essential organs for survival. You can feel pain due of your hands or injury to the decreased blood supply. Nerves of your hands receive less blood causing the sensation of pain. Constricted blood vessels will also slow the rate of healing. As we know, we need blood to heal.

Tightening Of Your Soft Tissues

Soft tissues include ligaments, tendons, and muscle tissues. These tissues lose flexibility, or become tightened with cold. As a result more force is required to move your joints and soft tissues. Requiring more force to move an area of the body that is already sore to move obviously will increase the pain needed for motion.

Decreased Physical Activity in Cold Months

Cold weather causes less physical activity. Physical activity increases blood flow to all areas of the body. In addition, activity causes endorphins to be released from the brain. Endorphins reduce pain. They also improve blood pressure, feelings of well-being and happiness, and reduce stress.

Barometric Pressure Changes

Have you ever heard an older person or someone with arthritis predict the rain or cold weather?

Guess what, they are right.

Here is why; the barometric pressure of the air changes with temperature and the amount of moisture in the air. Decreased barometric pressure causes less pressure against the body. This causes expansion of the soft tissues and joints, and increases pressure on the nerves that control pain.  It takes very small changes of the barometric pressure for the body to respond.

What do I do? 

As we know, there is nothing that we can do to change the weather.

Here are some ideas of what we can do:

  • Gloves or mittens at all times when outdoors, even in the car.
  • Compression gloves while inside and/or when you sleep. We encourage the fingerless gloves for indoors as they allow for function. These are readily available at your local pharmacy.
  • Exercise regularly. As mentioned, this will release endorphins that reduce pain and increase core temperature allowing your blood to circulate to your extremities.
  • Heat packs or warm water soaks for your hands.
  • Limit caffeine and smoking; these also constrict blood vessels to the extremities.
  • Massage: massage moves the blood through the blood vessels as well as opens them for more blood flow.Doing these things will reduce your pain and assist with healing.

 

By Stephanie Konstantinidis

Image courtesy: Alisa Anton, Unsplash