What is an Osteopath?22/02/2018
Christmas is here, the cold has well and truly set in and it’s time to wrap up warm and take stock in preparation for the year ahead. But as much as we’re torn between snuggling up in-front of the fire, and the urge to get up and go after our over indulgent and sloth-like states during the Christmas period, it all just seems a little harder than we thought. The muscles feel tight, our joints ache and we feel tired and less refreshed than we should after the break.
One of the answers could be Vitamin D deficiency
Summer seems a long time ago now, the warmth of the sun on our faces a distant memory. We’re lucky if we’re able to stand being outside for 5 minutes a day, let alone the 20 minutes it takes to build up enough vitamin D to enable us to absorb the calcium we need to keep our bones strong and our cartilage healthy.
Vitamin D is a hormone. Every tissue in our bodies has vitamin D receptors, including brain cells, immune cells, muscles and bones. We don’t take on board vitamin D in our diets, instead we make it via skin exposure to sunlight. If we’re deficient after periods of shorter days and less sunlight, vitamin D receptors can become hypersensitive and we may feel more joint and muscle ache, alongside a feeling of sluggishness and low mood. Our bones can become softer due to a lack of calcium, and therefore our muscles weaker.
Over the past 10 years, a number of researchers have found an correlation between extremely low Vitamin D levels and low grade, generalized pain that doesn’t well respond to treatment.
A study published in March 2009 by researchers at The Mayo Clinic, revealed that patients with insufficient Vitamin D levels who were taking narcotic pain medication needed nearly twice as much medication to control their pain levels as did patients with sufficient Vitamin D levels.
So what can we do to stop this?
It is advised that 15-20 minutes of sun exposure is needed per day to help reduce levels of Vitamin D deficiency. However, during the winter months this can be difficult to achieve. In this case, supplements can be bought over the counter to give you the boost that you need. It is always worth talking to your pharmacist however about safe levels of Vitamin D.
If you have severe vitamin D deficiency, any efforts to radically increase your D levels should be done after consulting with your doctor. As much as we need adequate levels, too much Vitamin D can be dangerous and lead to an excess build-up of calcium in your blood, which can lead to kidney stones.
Another reason may be our ‘cold weather posture’
When we walk outside in the winter we tend to immediately hunch ourselves over when we’re cold, our shoulders creep towards our ears and our arms become glued to our sides. This makes muscles tighter and less mobile, meaning any inflammation within the joints cannot disperse as easily, which in turn leads to a feeling of stiffness and tenderness.
What can we do?
Simply, wrap up warmer, swing those arms when you walk and relax those shoulders!
It’s a fact that warmer muscles are longer and more flexible, which is why we ‘warm up’ prior to exercise to avoid injury, and apply heat to sore muscles to relieve pain (depending on the injury). So wearing a scarf when you go outside will allow you to drop those shoulders and relax your arms.
The increased movement when you swing your arms will help to get the blood circulating to the peripheries, reduce inflammation and relax tight muscles. Dropping your shoulders tends to allow you to breathe more freely too, which means you feel more energetic. Why not try some shoulder rolls while sitting at your desk at work. You may be surprised at how far your shoulders drop when you’re more aware of how close they are to your ears!
Does exercise help?
Yes. On warm, sunny days, we’re much more likely to want to exercise. But during the winter months, all we want to do is wrap up and hibernate on the sofa to keep warm. As much as warmth and rest for the muscles is important, we need to complement this with regular exercises, which is one of the best things we can do for our physical and mental health. Our bodies are generally built to move, this is especially the case for those who suffer from arthritis and other painful conditions of the muscles and joints.
If you’re already struggling with low grade pain, the notion of exercising may seem overwhelming, yet gentle movement of any nature is far better than no movement at all. Again, this will help to decrease inflammation, alleviate stiffness, strengthen muscles and improve circulation. Alongside this it helps to control weight – which in turn puts less strain on joints. Just 30 minutes walking a day helps maintain bone density, improves sleep and boosts mood. All of these benefits in turn help to prevent pain.
However, it is important to carry out a level of exercise that’s appropriate for you. If you suffer from a joint condition, or have a specific area of pain, it is best to talk to a health professional who can give you advice and tailor exercises specifically for your problem.
We feel happier and less tense when the weather is warm and are therefore possibly less likely to notice or report pain. It’s always worth remembering though, that pain is normally a temporary state. You may feel it now, but that doesn’t mean to say you’ll feel it tomorrow!
If you’ve been suffering from joint or muscle pain, and would like an assessment, treatment or advice, please call 01666 817123.
Alternatively, email the clinic at: firstname.lastname@example.org if in Malmesbury and surrounding areas.
Ginde A. , Archives of Internal Medicine, March 23, 2009; vol 169: pp 626-632.
Greg Plotnikoff, MD, senior consultant, Allina Center for Health Care Innovations, Minneapolis.
Jamison, R. Pain, May 1995.
National Institutes of Health: "When the Weather Gets Colder."
Plotnikoff, G. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, December 2003; vol 78: pp 1463-1470.
Robert Newlin Jamison, PhD, professor, departments of psychiatry and anesthesiology, Harvard Medical School; chief psychologist, Pain Management Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston.
Sebastian Straube, PhD, Department of Occupational and Social Medicine, University of Göttingen, Germany.
Straube, S. Cochrane Database Syst. Rev. January 2010.
Turner, M. Pain Medicine, November 2008