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Winter Aches and Pains

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Winter Aches and Pains

Jan 23, 2015
In the winter, some people notice more body stiffness and soreness. Is it normal to feel aches and pains around this time of the year or is this a legitimate health concern? Physical therapist Linda Scholl talks about what the cold weather does to your muscles and joints, and tells you how to prevent aches and pains this winter season.

Episode Transcript

Announcer: Medical news and research from the University of Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Host: It's getting closer to winter, and lots of people complain about body aches and pains. Is this a legitimate health concern? We're talking with Linda Scholl, physical therapist at the University of Utah Orthopedic Center. So, Linda, lots of people are complaining about their bodies hurting more now in the winter than it was in the summer.

Linda Scholl: Oftentimes when weather changes, people's injuries or joints tend to ache a little bit more. If they happen to have any precursor to arthritis or already have arthritis, that's when we hear a lot of people complain that their joints are stiff, and that they tend to have more pain when they first start moving. Oftentimes, that's pretty typical. Usually, when we're a little older or have more injury under our belt, we'll feel it a little bit more.

Host: So it's common, then, in the winter, to feel the stiffness and the soreness?

Linda Scholl: What tends to be most common is when we're more sedentary. The first couple of movements when we get up out of a chair or when we're getting out of bed, that tends to be when it's the most sore. We just tend to be a little bit more inactive in the winter, so we tend to feel it a little bit more. Also with the cold, sometimes our joints just have a little bit less elasticity and the fact that we're colder. When things are warmed up, they tend to have better stretch, and they don't bind up on us as much. So we recommend that oftentimes it's just gentle, active motion.
If your knee hurts, before you get hurt and you've been sitting in a movie, it's a good idea to just move your knee. Bend your knee back and forth before you stand up and get up. If you're having trouble moving or gripping something with your hands, we ask that you just open and close your hands a little bit before you actually go to grab something. It's things like that, that will help our bodies get a little bit more active and less sore.

Host: In terms of people complaining about weakness, then, is that also related to the joint as well?

Linda Scholl: Arthritis, in general, can promote weakness because we tend to not move because we're sore. In the medical field, what we recommend is to try to strengthen those arthritic or stiff joints. The more we strengthen it, the muscles will take on the brute force, energy, of work that has to be done by that joint in that area, so that the muscles tend to do more of the work than the rubbing of the two joint surfaces together.

Host: I've always heard of the rumors. It's colder. The cold air freezes up your muscles. Is that at all true?

Linda Scholl: The same sort of thing applies. The less we're moving or the colder it gets, the more tense we tend to be. If we're sitting, for instance, at the computer all day and the cold air has been on, chances are our shoulders have been kind of creeping up and we've kind of been tensing our whole body up just because we're cold, sore, tired, and stiff. So we recommend, actually, to relax your shoulders, try and get your body to move a little bit more, and spend less static time doing whatever it is that we're doing. Oftentimes, we hear people complaining by spending too much at the computer, and we don't break it up as much. Truly, the gentle motion before you try and move and do something more aggressive is the best key for that.

Host: Is there anything that you know of, like, a specific exercise, movements, or stretches that you would recommend to us to say, "Hey, it's okay. It's winter. You can be lazy, but you can still do this to keep your body in shape."

Linda Scholl: Let's talk a little bit about our posture when we think about our tightness, our aches, and our soreness in our upper body from the winter. I just picture in my mind someone kind of hunched at a computer. Their shoulders are raised. Their chin is kind of jutting out a little bit and kind of scrunched up in there. That stiffness, that kind of clenching of our muscles when you're cold and fatigued is a problem. What we talk about doing is just lengthening your whole body, kind of pretending someone's got that string on top of your head, pulling your body up, getting your shoulders down, lengthening your back, pulling your belly muscles in, squeezing your shoulder blades a little bit together to try and maintain better posture. Hopefully, we can avoid getting those tight upper trapezius muscles right at the base of our neck and at the top of our shoulder.
Taking your shoulders and doing some shoulder rolls to just kind of loosen that area up is good. Things like that will help. And then just staying active in general such as going for a walk when you have that ten minute break and spending time in the hallways, in the stairs in your house, moving around a little bit more and being less sedentary.

Host: Is this going to be the same for everybody? So am I going to be doing the same movements and stretches as my 90-year-old grandma?

Linda Scholl: To some degree, yes. We all have the same thing working against us, which is gravity, which pulls us down and tends to pull us into poor posture. If we can actually straighten up, the 90-year-old versus the younger person, they still have to work against gravity. The amount of how much that they're doing and they're able to do might vary, but, yes, I'm going to ask you to watch your posture just as much as your grandmother. What you have as an outcome might be different, but the exercises might be similar. So take time. Think about what you need to do before you get up and move. Think about what you have been doing for the last hour or so and see how you can change that so that you can have overall better posture and enjoy your body and your life a little bit more.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is The Scope, the University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.

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