Have you noticed that as temperatures drop you feel more achy? Winter can be hard on our bodies, especially our joints. In acupuncture theory, it is believed that cold can constrict the flow through joints and muscles, making them feel more achy. Think about what happens when you put water in the cold freezer. It constricts into a hard block of ice. In a similar way, cold may restrict flow through the muscles and joints by tightening them up, leading to more aches and pains in some people.
If you feel your joints tightening as the temperature drops, here are six ideas that may help reduce pain and improve mobility. If aches and pains persist for an extended period of time, please consult your physician.
1. Warm up.
Try to avoid being outside in the cold for long periods to keep joints warm. If you need to be out in the cold, wear extra layers especially over sore joints to protect them from cold temperatures. Also, warming the joints before and after cold exposure with a heating pad could help increase circulation to help with joint pain. If you’re feeling a chill from being outside, warm up from the inside out with a hot cup of tea.
2. Stretch out.
When muscles and joints feel tight and tense in the cold weather, gentle stretching can be helpful. Stretching before activity can help protect muscles from possible injuries. Shoveling snow and scraping ice off our vehicles in the winter can be hard on our bodies and could lead to muscle strains and injuries. Stretching and also being aware of body mechanics/posture during these types of activities can help prevent injuries. Starting the day with a gentle stretching routine can help warm up our stiff muscles and joints to prepare for the day.
3. Soak aches away.
Soaking in a bathtub is soothing to both body and mind after a long day. Adding in bath salts could make your relaxing bath more therapeutic. Bath salts contain minerals such as magnesium, which can help relax sore muscles. Magnesium is needed for muscle function and can calm the nervous system so a bath in the evening could help you get a good night’s sleep. Also, the warmth of a bath can help increase circulation through joints and muscles, which can be helpful for aches and pains. Essential oils can also be added to the bath to help ease away the stress and tension from the day.
4. Apply a topical.
If muscles and joints are still feeling achy, maybe a topical ointment or linament could help. Topicals can be thick and lotion-like, such as an ointment, or thin and either oil- or water-based such as a linament. These topicals are applied on the skin over sore areas and many contain aromatics such as mint, cinnamon, clove, and lavender.
These natural aromatic herbs have properties that may help increase circulation to an area, which can be helpful for pain. The aromatics in topicals can make the topical feel warm, cool or give a tingling sensation when applied. DIY topicals can be made by blending aromatic essential oils into your favorite skincare product, such as lotion or body oil. Be sure to check the ingredient list for allergens before trying a topical. It’s also a good idea to apply to a small area first to make sure you don’t have a reaction.
5. Add turmeric.
Turmeric is a bright yellow spice that is warm and bright in both color and function. Turmeric has been included in cooking for its flavor but also its therapeutic properties. This spice is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and help alleviate pain by increasing circulation. You can add this spice to your cooking and it can also be found in supplement form. A delicious and warming way to use turmeric is a recipe called “golden milk” where turmeric is added to warm milk/milk substitute and can also add honey or cinnamon to taste. Before trying turmeric, talk with you primary care provider to make sure it’s a good fit for you and to ask about any health concerns.
6. Try Moxibustion
Moxibustion, aka Moxa, is a technique that has been used for centuries to warm painful areas like joints, and should only be performed by a licensed practitioner. An herb called Mugwort is used in this technique and is often pressed or rolled into an incense-like stick. You may have seen Mugwort growing wild in our area and didn’t know about this special plant! This herb is used for its deeply warming properties. During Moxa, this herb is burned safely over the skin at painful areas like joints.
Moxibustion is believed to increase circulation and blood flow to painful areas to aide in pain relief. It could be used for joint pain and also conditions such as neuropathy and cold hands or feet. Moxibustion is performed by a licensed practitioner to ensure safety of the technique and to make sure that the moxibustion is right for you.
Kylie A. Study, M.Sc, MSTOM, Dipl.OM is a licensed acupuncturist and natural wellness practitioner at the ProMedica Natural Wellness Shop in Sylvania, Ohio.