Dec 20, 2008

Neck Pain and the Cold

Naughty list


I received an email this week from a reader who had a very timely question to ask about neck pain and the weather. He wrote:


I tweaked my neck yesterday while out hanging the Christmas lights. It was freezing cold and windy and I was working overhead stapling the lights around the soffet when I felt a twinge in back of my neck on the left side… [snip]

My wife insists that it was caused by the cold weather… [snip]

I realize that I just strained a muscle or something and I’m not worried about it, but I was wondering why do I always get more aches and pains when the weather turns bad?


Hi John,

Does the weather affect neck strains, not to mention, other forms of joint pain? It would seem so judging from the amount of mail I receive on the subject each year.

I don’t know if anyone has come up with a real scientific explanation for why this is so, but there are several theories including such things as:

  • Barometric pressure
  • Temperature and/or humidity
  • And even Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

These have yet to be proven, but I think it’s a safe bet to assume that all of the above could play a role in one way or another. So just to be on the safe side, here’s my checklist for dealing with winter:

  1. Dress warmly and keep your environment warm and humid
  2. Keep active
  3. Turn on more lights

Transform Your Indoor Weather

First off, while it might sound like I’m bucking the latest trend of “going green” and trying to conserve energy, I actually recommend that you turn up the thermostat in your home or office to a point that you’re reasonably comfortable.

After all, you’re not going to save much green if joint pain is sending you to the ER or the drugstore.

Secondly, get a humidifier. One characteristic of summer that is often lacking during the winter months is humidity.

Keeping the humidity levels at about 40 percent will make your home feel much more comfortable and experts agree that moist air is much easier (cheaper) to heat. Dry air just feels colder and requires a higher thermostat level to achieve the same level of comfort.

If you dress warmly enough and keep the humidity levels high, you will feel comfortable even with the thermostat set at a very green 68 degrees.

So invest in a humidifier. It’s better for you and better for your furniture and it actually saves energy.

Keep Active

funny 5

During the winter months it just seems natural to want to hibernate.

Inactivity followed by sort bursts of activity seems to lead to more joint injuries than when we stay active on a regular basis. Sitting inside during inclement weather may be tempting, but it’s not good for your joints.

Also, before hanging those Christmas decorations, be sure to warm-up with some good gentle neck and shoulder exercises. And don’t try to do everything in one long marathon session. Take frequent breaks to come inside and warm up with some nice hot cocoa.

Finally, Lighten Up

Just because it’s gray and overcast outside, doesn’t mean you have to sit around in a dark gloomy room. Instead, experts recommend transforming your indoor environment into a warm, sunny day.

For example, if it’s nasty and depressing outside, get translucent blinds that you can keep closed so you don’t have to see how bleak the weather is. Translucent blinds will block the view, while still allowing sufficient light to pass through.

Next, turn on plenty of additional lights. Fluorescents are the most economical, but also try to include incandescent, or halogens so you can get full spectrum light. Spending a little extra for full spectrum lighting will pay off in the long run. They’re a heck of a lot cheaper than anti-depressants.

Also, paint your walls and ceilings in white or bright, sunny pastel shades such as yellow, beige or cream colors. Lighter colors make the room brighter and take less energy to illuminate.

The theory behind all of this is if you can’t see the bleak landscape, then it’s easier to ignore it and a bright, well-lit environment has been shown to have significant impact in combating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Granted, this may not actually help prevent joint injuries, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor for its own sake.

Long story short…

Does cold weather contribute to more neck pain, joint pain and back pain? Yes, apparently it does. Why, we’re not really sure.

No doubt it’s one reason people prefer retiring to places like Florida and Arizona. The hot climate is simply kinder to poor achy joints.

So anyway, until science comes up with a cure for the weather, those of us stuck in the colder regions will just have to make the best of things.

Oh, one last thought. Did I mention snacks?



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