Why do my shoulders and neck feel so much stiffer in Winter?

Picture this: it’s 7:00 am and your alarm is yelling at you. You roll over to turn it off like you always do when suddenly you feel a sharp pain in your neck. Now you are no longer able to turn your head without sending bolts of pain up your neck to your head. OR maybe you just wake up and feel like your muscles have been replaced with rocks and your joints with gravel? This feeling doesn’t ease up much as the day goes by causing you to feel stiff and immobile - making you even less inclined to get to the gym for fear of making it ‘worse’.

Sound familiar?  Especially in Winter?

My patients often ask me, “why is it I feel so much stiffer in Winter?”

Many studies have been conducted on the correlation between muscle and joint pain and the cold weather.  Although there is still much research to be undertaken, there are a few common theories that keep arising...

  • Lack of movement - When it is cold and raining outside, the last thing many of us want to do is leave our nice warm houses and offices and go for a run! As the cold continues, motivation dwindles and suddenly we haven’t been to the gym in months.

  • Posture - Do you ever find yourself waiting at the train station or walking to your car when a particularly cold gust of wind comes along? Automatically you elevate your shoulders up to your ears and retract your neck,  causing you to resemble a hunchback turtle as you continue on your way!

  • Vasoconstriction - this lengthy word is merely referring to your blood vessels tightening to minimise blood flowing to limbs, ie. legs, neck and arms. It is thought that this occurs as a way for the body to keep your core toasty in winter.

  • Changes in the atmosphere - When the temperature drops, the gases and fluids inside our joints (such as shoulders) can be affected by the atmospheric pressure, causing joints to change their shapes and structures.

So, now you know why you're feeling that bit more stiff at this time of year... what can you do about it?

  • Be aware of your shoulder positioning - if they’re up around your ears then bring them back down.

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Correct Posture
  • Rug up - consider wrapping a nice warm scarf around that cold neck to avoid the previously mentioned ‘hunchback turtle’ look.
  • Heat and Stretch - Place a heat pack draped over your shoulders and/or neck. Perform a gentle stretch by bringing your ear down towards your armpit - keeping your shoulder still. Hold for 10-20 seconds and repeat.

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  • Get a treatment! - Myotherapy is great for stiff necks and shoulders. By targeting the soft tissue, or muscles, of the neck, shoulders, arms and back, we can help alleviate your pain and get you back to being active and happy.

So next time you wake up feeling stiff and crunchy - give one (or all!) of these tips a try!