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Cold Weather

Dealing with winter aches and pains

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Cold Weather

Cold weather can mean aches and pains. But there's no need to hibernate! Ease the pain naturally with these tips.

Love it or hate it, cold winter weather for many people means aches and pains. Instead of hibernating, naturopaths Chris Habib and Liam LaTouche invite us to “bundle up, stay active, and work to prevent winter aches and pains rather than react to them.” Snowballs, anybody?

The cold, hard facts

The effects of cold weather on pain used to fall in the realm of old wives’ tales. Not anymore. A number of studies have suggested the link is very real.

Cold temperatures

One study found that for every 5.56 C (10 F) drop in temperature, there was a corresponding incremental increase in arthritis pain. Researchers and doctors point to cold weather’s shrinking effect on tissue, which pulls on nerves and causes pain. Additionally, a more sedentary winter lifestyle allows our joints to “gel,” resulting in discomfort and stiffness.

Barometric pressure

Other research has focused on barometric pressure. High air pressure against our bodies holds tissue expansion in check. A drop in air pressure (often before a storm) swells tissue, which causes pain by stimulating nerves. That’s why some people forecast storms using their pain levels.

Migraines

Between 50 and 80 percent of migraine sufferers believe weather can set off a headache, though triggers vary. Some people react to summer’s high heat and high humidity, others to winter’s low temperatures
and low humidity, and still others to sudden variations in weather.

Fibromyalgia

Changes in weather, cold temperatures, and humidity can also worsen fibromyalgia symptoms, and cold can play a large part in triggering some types of nerve pain.

At the clinical level, Habib and LaTouche see the effects of cold weather on their patients: “When it gets cold, our bodies can experience poor blood circulation, as the blood stays closer to the core to support vital organs. This can translate into aches, stiffness, and pain.”

Natural ways to ease pain

For those of us who find winter hard on our bodies, we can help minimize weather’s effects by treating our bodies well. Habib and LaTouche suggest the following approaches.

Lifestyle and diet

Engage in regular physical activity and stay well hydrated to promote better circulation.

Eat a balanced diet rich in vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein (and low in refined and processed foods) to control underlying inflammation that contributes to pain.

Treatment and prevention

Try acupuncture for pain management and to promote the healing process. In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is seen as a way to support the warming of the body during colder months.

Engage in hydrotherapy, which, by exposing parts of the body to water at contrasting temperatures, encourages blood circulation, reduces pain, and relaxes tense muscles.

Speak to a naturopath to discuss specific supplements and herbal remedies.

Arthritis pain

The link between weather/barometric pressure and arthritic conditions is probably the most studied and accepted. Along with the lifestyle and treatment suggestions in the previous section, other ways to reduce pain include fighting cold with heat, reducing joint pressure, and exercising.

  • Wear layers and warm up clothes in the dryer.
  • Keep the house warm and comfortable.
  • Warm up the car.
  • Use an electric blanket or heating pad to relax muscles and soothe pain.
  • Wear Spandex gloves at night to reduce fluid buildup in joints.
  • Exercise to loosen joints before going outside.

For specific supplements, see sidebar below.

Fibromyalgia pain

Because fibromyalgia has many symptoms—multiple tender points, deep and widespread muscle pain, disturbed sleep, fatigue, and depression—treatment involves multiple approaches.

Therapeutic techniques

  • stress/relaxation therapy—meditation, guided
    imagery, deep breathing exercises, or relaxation response techniques
  • therapeutic massage—manipulation of muscles
    and soft tissues helps lessen pain, muscle tension,
    spasms, and stress
  • hydrotherapy—using heat and ice and/or daily application of moist heat (such as moist heating pad, warm shower, or microwavable heat “cozy”) eases muscle pain and stiffness
  • natural products—topical creams containing capsaicin and dietary supplements such as S-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe), soy, magnesium, and vitamin D may help, though research is still ongoing in this area

Lifestyle changes

  • Be mindful of stress and fatigue levels.
  • Limit activities or commitments.
  • Rest as needed and maintain a regular bedtime schedule.
  • Do low-impact exercises regularly, such as swimming, water aerobics, walking, stretching, strength training, tai chi, and yoga.

Migraines

Not “just” a headache, migraines are neurological conditions that affect about 14 percent of people worldwide. The pain affects home, work, and school life.

Prevent attacks or reduce their severity

  • alternative therapies—biofeedback, relaxation training, meditation, acupuncture, massage, and yoga
  • lifestyle changes—exercising, establishing consistent sleep schedules, avoiding food and beverage triggers, eating regularly, staying hydrated, and maintaining a proper weight, as obesity is a risk factor in migraines
  • supplements—herbs, vitamins, and minerals that show promise include riboflavin (vitamin B2), magnesium, coenzyme Q10, feverfew, and butterbur

Neuropathic pain

There are many forms of neuropathy, or nerve pain. One type, peripheral neuropathy, is a common complication
of diabetes, characterized by tingling, burning, numbness, or pins and needles in fingers or toes. Particularly affected by cold, it can be triggered by eating, drinking, or touching something cold, or simply breathing in cold air.

Prevention and treatment options being studied

  • warm attire—particularly gloves and warm socks
  • topical—capsaicin, a chili pepper extract, for pain relief
  • herbs and supplements—vitamins B6 and B12, curcumin, geranium oil, evening primrose oil, acetyl-L-carnitine, fish oil, or alpha-lipoic acid
  • stress relief therapies—meditation, relaxation techniques, and biofeedback
  • massage or acupuncture—to improve circulation, stimulate nerves, and temporarily relieve pain
  • regular exercise—walking, yoga, and tai chi

Best supplements for healthy joints

Arthritis is an umbrella term covering more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions that affect joints, the tissues that surround them, and other connective tissue, so there’s no one “cure” for everyone.

Researchers are investigating herbs, nutrients, and supplements that appear promising, either singly or in combination, with a variety of results, sometimes depending on the exact forms and dosages of the active ingredients. Supplements considered beneficial for reducing joint pain or general inflammation include

  • chondroitin sulphate
  • glucosamine sulphate
  • calcium
  • vitamin D3
  • ginger
  • turmeric (curcumin)
  • omega-3
  • green tea
  • SAMe
  • MSM
  • stinging nettle
  • bromelain
  • vitamin E
  • devil’s claw

When using supplements, always work with a naturopath or other knowledgeable health care practitioner for best results.

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