Cold weather seems to make everything hurt worse. As I am writing this, the temperature has dropped about 25 degrees so far today and we are headed toward a hard freeze. Yesterday was a mild day. We will go through a few more ups and downs over the next few weeks before Tennessee winter finally sets in.
In addition to the temperature, the barometric pressure is on a seesaw. One day it is rising or steady, then it begins to drop as a low-pressure system moves in.
These weather changes are often the reason for a sudden influx of patients to our office.
The frigid temperatures cause numerous complaints. As the body has to fight harder to maintain warmth, the body systems are stressed and chronic complaints become worse.
One of the first responses to colder, ambient temperature is that the body begins to abruptly restrict blood flow to the arms and legs. That is why your hands and feet get so cold. Wearing gloves or warmer socks does nothing to warm them back up once they are cold.
Let’s talk about physiology for just a moment to explain how to avoid cold feet and hands. Your body has a priority to keep the internal organs at a certain temperature range at all times to stay healthy. In the event that the air around us turns colder, the body will automatically reduce blood flow to the arms and hands in order to avoid losing heat from the organs.
As long as the internal organs are too cold, the body simply will not increase blood flow to the arms and legs. That means the hands and feet will be cold, and will stay cold until the warm blood begins to fully circulate through them again. It doesn’t matter if you put gloves on cold hands, they will not warm up until the body’s core organs are warm again.
Here is tip No. 1. If you want warm hands and feet, keep your torso warm. Wear as many extra layers as necessary to keep your torso warm so the body continues to pump blood into the arms and legs. At the very least, add an extra layer of thickness (preferably non-cotton) to your body, more if needed.
As your body fights to stay warm, immune response is often diminished. This makes it more difficult for your body to adequately fight infections and heal properly from injuries. Besides keeping your torso warm, it can be helpful to warm your body internally by taking in warm drinks and food.
Tip No. 2 is to intentionally warm your body with food and drinks when possible.
Although the temperature changes are problematic, for many people the barometric pressure changes are more troubling. A drop in barometric pressure can cause problems ranging from achy joints to sinus headaches.
You may have heard of SCUBA divers getting terrible joint pain if they ascend too fast after a dive. This condition is called “the bends” because the divers often automatically bend the affected joints for relief.
This happens because as they ascend too rapidly, the ocean pressure around them lessens dramatically and the bubbles in the joints expand rapidly causing severe joint pain. When this happens with SCUBA divers, the condition is called decompression sickness and can have much more serious consequences.
We experience something similar although much less severe when the atmospheric pressure drops. Inside your body there are numerous sealed cavities filled with air. For example in most of your joints there is fluid that contains a few bubbles filled with primarily nitrogen gas. When the atmospheric pressure drops suddenly as it does when a low-pressure system moves in prior to rain or snow, these small bubbles expand within the joints. This rapid expansion causes joint pain.
Sinus headaches can also be caused by a sudden drop in atmospheric pressure. Normally the sinus passageways are open and air can easily flow back and forth to equalize the pressure inside the sinus cavities of your head. When sinus congestion is present however, the airways are blocked by mucus and the pressure cannot equalize. As the pressure drops in the atmosphere, the pressure inside the head increases and headache pain is the result.
It is not the onset of rain that causes these kinds of headaches, but rather the drop in barometric pressure that causes the rain.
Tip No. 3 is to try acupuncture for these conditions. Interestingly, acupuncture has been very effective in helping patients that frequently have sinus as well as migraine headaches.
In our clinic, most patients actually stop having the headaches after only a few treatments. Our painless medical acupuncture is equally effective in helping with frequent chronic joint pain.
As the weather turns to wet and cold over the next few months, follow these tips to stay healthier.
Dr. Mark Kestner is a licensed chiropractic physician in Murfreesboro. His office is at 1435 NW Broad St. Contact him at mkestner@DrKestner.com