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Tense Shoulders in Winter Weather

Everyone that has lived in an area with winter knows that as the temperature drops and the precipitation accumulates, so do the injuries. Winter is a time of the year when the healthcare system sees an increase in falls and fall-related injuries. You can set your calendar to the first frost resulting in broken hips, broken arms, twisted ankles, and bruised bottoms. We know that many more injuries are happening, but aren't significant enough to come in for help.

One of those lesser injuries can be neck and shoulder pain

This doesn't happen necessarily because of a fall or slip but instead happens as people become tenser in their neck and shoulders.

When the ground is slippery people tense up

They do this because they are trying to become more stable. By being stiffer, they are more stable. Unfortunately, this doesn't translate to being more responsive and better able to react to a slip.

On a normal day without dangerous weather elements, your body is relaxed and responsive.

You may step on a root and slightly twist your ankle, but your reaction stopped it from being a worse injury. You may walk across a slippery rock and feel a slight slide, but your dynamic response allowed you to catch yourself from a fall. You may even trip coming up a step, but your quick counteraction corrects yourself and you keep walking like nothing happened.

These are examples of normal responses that happen when our nervous system is relaxed and ready to respond. We make quick reactions and we correct ourselves without giving it much thought.

When we get into different elements (ice, snow, wind, etc.), that may change our perception of safety, and that alters how our nervous system responds, how we move, and how we react.

Think about how you feel when you go outside on a cold day. Even thinking about it you may feel the tops of your shoulders tense up, your face push forward, and your height drops an inch or two. This is the startle response position. If someone shot a gun off right behind you, what would you do? You'd react into the startle position. It's a defensive posture in response to a threat. It's completely normal, but it also locks up your ability to dynamically react.

Not only does this limit your balance and reaction, but it also can create muscle pain in your shoulders and neck, tensions headaches from the base of your skull, and back pain from a tense and stiff rib cage

Can you see how being in this startle position you would have a different response to a slip, trip, or fall? Can you see how this position makes you more likely to be unable to correct your loss of balance?

This all happened because your nervous system is very smart; it has identified a threat. It knows that being cold means it may be icy, and being icy may mean a fall is coming. Your body is prepared for this just by the cold temperature you feel along your neck and shoulders.

But, does cold weather mean you're going to fall?

Not at all! Does cold weather mean you're going to get hurt? Not that either! What does cold weather mean? It means you're cold!

You can start increasing your safety, reducing the risk of threat, and decreasing the chill with a simple solution that makes a great gift for many during the holidays.

It's a scarf!

By wearing a scarf you can prevent the cold air from tensing your shoulders, keep more of your own body heat inside your jacket, and look great while feeling safe! Without being locked up in the startle position, your body will be more relaxed and ready to react appropriately. You still need to be careful on the ice, but you now have your whole body to help you make a good response.

It's odd to think but a scarf could significantly impact the number of injuries we see throughout the winter season. Not only does it keep the chill off, but it allows you to keep your neck and shoulders relaxed, and that takes tension off your head and rib cage reducing the onset of headaches and back pain.

If you're looking for a last-minute gift and you can see that person walking in the cold in the startle position, then you still have time to be a holiday hero and gift them a scarf that will give them more benefit than just a cozy, bundle-up item. #snowbeastperformance

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