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Preventing Winter Weather-Related Aches and Pains

There may be some truth to the well-known cliché “feeling under the weather.” During the winter, some people may experience negative effects on their body due to freezing temperatures and changes in atmospheric pressure. Winter can exacerbate conditions that are not as troublesome in warmer months, causing debilitating aches and pains, particularly in people who suffer from arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

In general, muscles that are warmed up tend to stretch better, and stronger muscles help to control the activity-related forces we put on our joints. These factors can help decrease the added stress our joints experience during the winter months, due to cold temperatures and changes in activity level.

“We can help people understand the impact of their conditions and why they are experiencing pain,” said Michael O’Donnell, DPT, a physical therapist at UPMC Centers for Rehab Services. “Once we identify the reasons, we can develop a program to relieve or help manage the symptoms.

Michael recommends light aerobic activity for approximately 30 minutes each day. Additionally, he suggests warm-up activity before working outside in the cold to strengthen your body for the activities you plan to do.

Along with aches and pains, winter brings lots of snow … and shoveling! To help prevent muscle strain in your lower back and shoulders, Michael encourages you to follow these helpful tips:

  • Lift smaller loads of snow rather than heavy shovelfuls. Be sure to bend your knees and lift with your legs rather than your back and push rather than lift when possible.
  • Use a shovel with a shaft that lets you keep your back straight. You want to allow your back to be in an upright posture, so it can be optimally positioned to work.
  • Also, position your midsection and move in the direction in which you are moving the snow. This will keep your lower back from twisting.
  • Take frequent breaks when shoveling. Stand up straight and walk around periodically to extend the lower back.
  • Backward bending exercises while standing can help offset the excessive forward bending that shoveling requires.

Visit UPMC.com/4CRS to learn more about how UPMC Centers for Rehab Services can help your wintertime aches and pains.

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