As we get through winter, it’s not uncommon to see an increase in certain injuries. While the cold weather and lack of sunshine play their part in how we feel and function, there’s a few things we can do to keep our bodies moving during the snowy, dark months.
A common complaint during the winter is neck pain. The increase in neck and shoulder tension is largely due to an increase in shivering or hunching of the shoulders to stay warm. Neck and shoulder tension can lead to stiffness in the neck, headaches, tendinitis in the shoulder, elbow, and wrist, and impingement syndromes in the shoulder. Wear appropriate warm clothing (scarves are in, people!) to avoid the shivering, drinking plenty of water through the day (hydration helps to prevent muscle tension), and spending a few minutes at the beginning, middle, and end of your day moving and stretching through the neck and shoulders. One of my favourite stretches for this time of year is the cat stretch. This movement mobilizes the upper back, rib cage, and shoulders and allows for tight muscles in the neck to release through breathing. Start on all fours, take a large inhale expanding out through the sides of the bottom of your rib cage (diaphragm breathing) in your neutral position, as you exhale press up between your shoulders and curve your back up like the “Halloween cat.” You should feel a stretch between your shoulders. Exhale completely, hold for a few seconds at the top, and then relax back to neutral with your natural inhale. Repeat this process 10 to 15 times, two to three times during the day.
Another common complaint is general aches and pains. Contrary to the “tough farmer” belief, aches and pains are not always just a part of life and there are many ways to alleviate them. Keeping yourself moving on a regular basis is the first thing I suggest, however, also ensuring that your hydration is up to par (a normal adult should consume two to three litres per day of water or tea — a lot more than you’re probably used to!) will do wonders for your joints. Proper hydration will also improve your digestive system, neurological system, mood, energy levels, and sleep. To help those aches go make sure you have enough omega fatty acids in your diet (omega-3 and -6). These are integral to joint health. They can be found naturally in fatty foods like eggs, avocado, fish, flax oils, and nuts and also can be supplemented in capsule or liquid form. Omega-3s are shown to greatly reduce inflammation and are an excellent choice for anyone with joint or muscle pain, or conditions such as arthritis. These fatty acids are also huge for brain health!
A big issue this time of year is just a general consensus of feeling tired and burnt out — again, probably due to the lack of daylight as well as the cold. Proper hydration is important here too. Ensuring that you’re eating a balanced diet with plenty of seasonal vegetables, fruits (oranges are great this time of year for their vitamin C), and enough healthy fats and proteins is very important also. Some added suggestions for energy, sleep, and mood health are supplementing vitamin D and magnesium. Vitamin D helps maintain energy levels, sleep patterns, and improves general mood while magnesium is integral to the nervous system and will also help stay aches and pains, muscle spasms/cramping, and improve mood and cognitive function. Of course, a regular routine of movement will also be a big asset when it comes to keeping those winter blues away!
As always, if you’re dealing with a new injury or area of pain seek out advice from your health-care and movement professional. If you’re on medications for specific health conditions, consult your doctor or pharmacist before adding new supplements to your routine.