The change in seasons this time of year is exciting, with Christmas parties, family reunions, and winter sports to look forward to. But the winter can also bring challenges to physical and mental health. Infections spread more easily, ice increases the risk of injury, holiday preparations can be stressful, and darker days can cause seasonal depression. But all of these symptoms of the winter blues can be fought, prevented, or mitigated through chiropractic care. Chiropractic works with your body and helps it to heal itself so that you can enjoy the holidays to their fullest.
How the winter affects your joints
Your joints are filled with synovial fluid, which acts as cushioning and lubricant for the joints as they move, preventing the bones from grinding directly against each other. When temperatures drop, this fluid thickens up and is not able to move as freely. Additionally, changes in atmospheric pressure are thought to cause the ligaments, tendons, and cartilage in the joints to expand and contract. All of these factors can make the joints less flexible and movement painful. These symptoms tend to be at their worst when cold weather first arrives, especially if it happens suddenly. For those with arthritis, cold weather also has the potential to trigger and worsen their symptoms; this is one major reason why the winter can be hard on the elderly. If you find yourself having trouble moving, a visit to a chiropractor may be the answer. Chiropractors are trained to keep muscles loose through targeted adjustments so you can keep moving.
Preventing injury during physical activity
Your muscles cope with cold weather by tightening up to stay warm, but this can prevent them from stretching properly. This doesn’t just restrict movement and cause pain – it also increases the risk of injury. The risk increases the harder the muscles are worked. If you participate in winter sports such as snowboarding and skiing, always do warmup exercises first. When shoveling snow, don’t throw the snow with the full force of your body, but instead push it with the shovel to the snowbank. Work slowly to pace yourself and keep from slipping. Lift with your legs instead of your back. Keep in mind that your muscles are already working harder than normal and don’t overload them. Visiting a chiropractor will also help your body build strength and durability.
The spine and the immune system
Winter brings an increased risk of infectious diseases for several reasons. Viruses like the flu and the common cold thrive in the cold, dry air of winter, and crowded indoor gatherings also make it easier for germs to spread. Holiday preparations can cause stress and sleep deprivation. But the main culprit is a compromised immune system.
The immune system is your body’s defense mechanism against infections and other invaders. To work the most effectively, it relies on the body’s other systems, primarily the nervous system, which itself relies on a healthy spine to transmit signals throughout the body. If the spine is misaligned, signals won’t flow properly and the immune system will not be at full strength. Lower Vitamin D exposure already weakens the immune system in the winter, which makes a healthy spine all the more important. That’s just one reason why spinal health is the core principle of chiropractic care. A chiropractor will help bring your spine back into alignment so your immune system can get back to fighting off unwelcome microbial visitors.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
If you’ve noticed that your mood changes with the weather, it’s probably not a coincidence. Every winter, millions of Americans find themselves experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This can be brought on by shorter and darker days, cold temperatures, and general stresses related to the holiday season. The effects are comparable to those of depression – a lack of energy, low motivation, and trouble sleeping are all common symptoms. SAD is another problem that can stem from spinal misalignments and a faulty nervous system. These misalignments might cause your body to produce too little serotonin, a hormone that raises your mood, or too much melatonin, which promotes sleep. Just as with fighting physical illness, chiropractic care can improve your mental health by stimulating the nervous system to restore your hormone production back to a proper balance.
- Maintain a healthy diet. It’s easy to be tempted during the holidays, but do your best to make healthy choices when you can. Eat slowly as your brain takes about 10 minutes to realize you’re full. If you’re worried about overeating at a party, eat before you go. Limit alcoholic consumption.
- Dress warm, as this will limit the effects of the cold on your muscles and keep them loose. Instead of a single giant coat, dress in layers as this is more effective at retaining heat. But there is such a thing as dressing too warm. If you start sweating heavily, the sweat will cool on contact with the air and bring your body temperature down, defeating the purpose. If you’re going to be active outdoors, remember that your body temperature will rise when you start moving, so you should feel a little chilly when standing still.
- Stay active. Cold weather may discourage physical activity, and that’s understandable, but insufficient movement can cause depression and create a vicious cycle of your muscles tightening up. If you’re worried about slipping on ice outside or if it’s just too cold, there are ways you can exercise indoors. Consider a gym membership. Buy some dumbbells you can use anytime at home. If you have an old treadmill that’s been collecting dust, put it to use! Even a small amount of activity can make a huge difference in keeping your muscles limber and your mood more positive.
- Check your equipment before engaging in winter sports. You’ve already put in the work to make sure your body doesn’t fail you; you also need to make sure your equipment won’t fail you either.
- Drink plenty of water. You may feel like you don’t have to drink as much water when the sun isn’t beating down, but staying hydrated is just as important in the winter as in the summer. Dehydration is a major cause of muscles tightening up, which can lead to injuries, and the winter poses a risk because cold temperatures actually make the atmosphere drier.
- See a chiropractor regularly so that your body can be at its strongest no matter what the forecast looks like. Click here to contact Dr. Andrea and schedule an appointment today.