As a Canadian, I am all too familiar with cold, snowy winter months. Some speculate that Canadians have special powers against the cold. Be that as it may, what makes us successful is being skilled in preparation during those cold, frigid days.
Unlike Canada, Kansas/Missouri has a tendency toward a mixture of cold temperatures one day and warm the next; some days cool, others freezing rain, and other days a tepid 80 degrees. Routinely we walk out of the door baffled at what mother nature is going to grace us with with that day, and are ill-prepared for the temperature.
As a chiropractor, the winter months tend to bring a familiar set of injuries into the office. Just as flip flop season causes an uproar in shin splints and plantar fasciitis, the winter months expose its fair share of ailments. Numbers in neck spasms, tension headaches, shoulder pain, TMJ syndrome and injuries of the like seem to increase during those cold winter months.
With the decrease in temperatures, the body intelligently sets off a series of warming tricks to to keep our core temperature stable. Shivering, which initiates activation of the muscles in the body to create warmth, and elevation of the traps to keep the neck and shoulders warm cause increased use of the muscles of the neck, shoulders and upper back. If you are heading into training with muscles that have been in overdrive much of the day, the likelihood of fatigue leading to injury is much higher.
These issues can be prevented by taking appropriate steps. Many of which seem common sense, however, putting them into action is critical.
Here are some of my tips on staying healthy during the cold winter months:
1. Wear clothing appropriate to temperatures.
Simple. Wear warm clothing appropriate to the temperature of your surroundings as to avoid shivering. It is not uncommon to see an athlete shivering their way to the gym, wearing nothing but a t-shirt, about to push press their way into a neck spasm, shoulder injury or headache. Your traps can only do so much work in the day. Save it for those heavy pulls and olympic weightlifting, not shivering because you forgot your jacket at home.
2. Wear a Scarf.
When the neck and shoulders are exposed, we have a tendency to elevate the shoulders, protecting the neck from the cold. If you work in a chilly office, wear a scarf to work. This keeps the shoulders and neck warm throughout the day allowing you to be ready to train without the risk of injury.
3. Check the workout ahead of time.
Kansas/Missouri weather can bring cold days without snow. Running can be programmed in a workout although it may still be chilly outside. Be sure to look at the workouts ahead of time. If a run is programed outside, dress appropriately. It is better to be sweaty than freezing.
4. Warm up properly.
Get to the gym a few minutes early. Keep your sweats and sweatshirt on while you hop on the bike or rower. Work to an amount that will to get the blood flowing into your limbs. For many people it will be about 500-750 meters on the rower or 30-40 calories on the bike. When you start to feel sweaty then you can remove the extra layer.
5. Do a little extra mobility work.
Spend some time foam rolling, stretching and doing mobility work that is specific to you as an athlete. This is important all year round however in the colder months, it is especially helpful to prevent injury. This primes the muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints before you jump into the gym’s warm up strategies.
Very few people enjoy using ice before, during or after training in the winter months. However this is an important tactic for recovery. If you are dealing with an injury, snuggle up to the fire place and plop on an ice pack to the area of injury.
The use of heat therapy prior to training can be useful to loosen and relax tissues making it easier to stretch and foam roll. Heat prior to training paired with ice after training can be a great way to manage and prevent injuries from happening in the first place.
8. Change the time of day you workout.
If morning workouts are your jams but you happen to be experiencing an abnormal amount of injuries during the colder months, contemplate a later class in the day. The gym should be a bit warmer as the day progresses. Working out in warmer conditions will allow you to warm up quickly and stay warm for the duration of your training, resulting in less injury.
9. Cool down.
Once you catch your breath, hop on the bike and pedal at a slow pace. This will help remove lactic acid, and bring your heart rate and temperature down appropriately.
10. Dress up before you leave the gym.
Even if you feel hot and sweaty after your workout, it is best to stay warm and cool down properly.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” - Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Heather Bourdon-Russell D.C., B.S.
Owner of UnBroken Chiropractic