At this time of year, it sucks to have European friends. European, American, Scandinavian; basically anyone north of the equator is teasing you and making you writhe as they post glorious selfies online of them in shorts and t-shirts, wallowing by sun laden lakes and poolside picnics with tans and smiles aplenty. The worst ones are those people that actually live in holiday destinations – like Cyprus. Glorious palm trees and stunning beachside locations with waiters serving you any array of food and beverages, sun-hats and fans… it’s sickening!
I’ve always maintained that we as a sub tropical city (sorry Melbourne) don’t do ‘cold’ very well. We have two distinct personalities;
1) the person who pulls out their beaver fur lined parka at the mere hint of a drop below 20 degrees centigrade
2) the beach nut who caroons in boardies and havaianas until well into July maintaining that whilst ever the sun is out, that means you don’t cover up.
It’s not that surprising really when you think on it, as for the entire 6-8 weeks of wintry-esque weather that we Sydney-siders have to endure we still tend to luck out with a few stunning days where the air is crisp and the light is good and the vivacious landscape before you focus’ intently on crystal clear images that still sparkle in the diamond cut beauty of our winter sunshine.
But what this skewed perspective of wintry weather imbibes is that when the cold does hit (as it has in the last 3 weeks) – we find ourselves as a loss of understanding. Our bodies begin to ache and our complexion fades slightly and we feel… well… forlorn. I have had a number of clients coming in this week with slight niggles and pains that aren’t debilitating, but have many of my regulars bemoaning the onset of age and the inability to spring back from exercise regimes that usually feel invigorating and self affirming.
The truth is – it’s not really you. When it gets cold, our bodies respond. The old injuries and past discretions of “on-field” achievements come back to make their presence felt. None of us are immune to the beast that is scar tissue, not unless we have wrapped ourselves in cotton wool and never expended ourselves in a physical capacity in our lives. Even then, the onset of muscular aches and pains in winter rarely escapes even the most diligent of health fiends.
It is fact that barometric pressure has an effect on soft tissue in the body. Muscles, ligaments, tendons and even bones, respond to shifts in weather patterns, expanding or contracting accordingly which can trigger sensitised nerves and cause pain. Not debilitating pain but the tingling sensation that you can indeed feel ‘the rains are a comin’. Whilst joint pain in these instances can be due to pre-arthritic conditions, some researchers believe that scar tissue itself is sensitive to these changes in barometric pressure and weather systems.
Barometric pressure changes cause fluids to contract or expand. This has a direct effect on fluids such as blood, lymph, synovial fluid etc, that makes joint spaces and articulations function smoothly. Whilst there are various claims around the effects of damp, thundery or wet weather, it is the change in barometric measures that directly effect fluids and indeed scar tissue. Scar tissue disrupts the transfer of lymph across tissues. Lymphatic flow cannot pass across the network of scar tissue that is formed after trauma. Without getting too much into a physics lesson and talking about the Bernoulli Effect and Poiseuille’s law, we can safely assume that fluid is effected by atmospheric pressure and the subtle changes and shifts that occur when colder weather presents.
Thus it is safe to assume that you are NOT suffering from an early onset of old age or arthritis when the temperatures drop, but that your body is merely responding to the environmental effects around you.
But what to do about it?
So how do we combat this relatively sobering effect of cold weather on us? It comes down to management as per usual. The cool-down after exercise is vital here. With cold weather, sudden drops in degrees can result in restrictions in vasodilation (blood pressure) and this has huge effects on muscles trying to recover and repair after exercise. You want blood and lymph flow to be at their maximum effect after exercise, removing wastage products from muscular contractions, delivering nutrients to muscles and soft tissues. You want to keep this flow at its maximum to retain as much ‘flow’ as possible.
Perhaps this is where we sub tropical loving freaks lose out. We don’t stay warm enough after exercise, feeling that we have just exerted ourselves and our body temperatures are nice and high, so we don’t need to go and put on the hoodie and trackies again. After all the sunshine feels so nice on our bare legs and arms! Keeping the body warm allows for all these ‘flow’ issues to keep operating. Also we don’t want the restriction in fluid flow to impede delivery of blood to muscles. Gentle movement and some stretching post event is vital to ensuring this supply is maintained. This helps massage the lymph flow (uric and lactic acid build up) out of the muscles, into the lymph vessels and out of the body.
In essence we have to be more careful about our cool down when its cooler and more stringent in all the things we know we ‘should do’ (stretch, warm down, water, etc) to maximise that which occurs more naturally when it’s warm and hot. Let’s be honest, after a workout in the cold, none of us walk home – we jump in the car and drive home via the coffee house with a latte… I know I do!
So don’t bemoan your ageism too early. It’s not age that is catching up with you, it’s your body responding to what is normally happening when the cooler climate hits. We can be better ‘winter beings’ if we try and understand that which comes about for a relatively small amount of weeks in the mid part of the year. Essentially we could just ‘not do anything’ for winter and thankfully, our weather allows us to get away with that. Or we run away to the north at just the right point of the year that separates the 8 weeks of winter. Being ‘winter smart’ is just a case of understanding what you have to do to create the right environment for your body. So don’t believe that you are getting old – you’re just being reminded of what you did years ago. Be a better winter athlete, and as it is said - “the cold never bothered me anyway…”
  Lymphedema Caregiver’s Guide by M. K. Kearse, PT, CLT-LANA, E. McMahon PhD, and A. Ehrlich, MA. Lymph Notes 2009, page 91.
 Lowering of fluid pressure in regions where the flow velocity is increased