Don't let cold weather stop you from exercising. From layering to stretching, Paul Henson, MD, a sports medicine physician with Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute, has a few tips to keep you injury-free.

Your Health | 4 months ago

Staying Active and Injury Free – Even When It Gets Cold

Don't let cold weather stop you from exercising. From layering to stretching, Paul Henson, MD, a sports medicine physician with Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute, has a few tips to keep you injury-free.

For many, cold weather can mean big sweaters and bigger weight gain. Let’s face it: It can be tempting to hibernate during the fall and winter months, but hiding from the cold can leave you indoors and out of shape.

By learning things like what to wear and how to warm-up, you can stay active and injury-free – even when temperatures drop.

Get Warm and Stay Warm

Paul Henson, MD, a sports medicine physician with Atrium Health Musculoskeletal Institute in Huntersville, encourages layers. “You should look at three layers,” he says. “First, a base layer that wicks away sweat. For the second, something with wool to keep the heat in. And for the third, choose something like a windbreaker – breathable but weather-proof.”

Dr. Henson also mentions not to forget your accessories! Fingers, toes, noses, and ears all need protection too. Gloves and headbands are good options.  Running shoes do not trap heat well, so consider extra socks or shoe covers.

Speaking of warm, don’t skip the warm-up. “The general rule of thumb is to have a 10-to-15-minute warm-up before exercise and add five minutes more for every 10 degrees it goes below 30 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Dr. Henson, who also suggests a more dynamic warm-up over static stretches. This could include walking lunges, squats and high knees. Additionally, if you’re doing your warm-up inside, he recommends adding the layers after – this will help regulate your core temperature once you’re outside.

It’s easy to ignore the upper body during the warm-up, but according to Dr. Henson, injuries to the neck and back are all too common. Try arm circles and trunk rotations as well as planking to target those upper body and core muscles.

Dr. Henson also encourages working out with a partner.  “In addition to its many other benefits, partner stretching before a workout can provide even more protection.”

Don’t Stop Moving When You’re Done

When you finish your workout, all you want to do is relax by the fire – but if you don’t cool-down, your body could be the one that gets burned. “If going for a run, do a light jog when done to bring things back down,” Dr. Henson, says. “Unlike before the workout, now you can do the static holding stretches because your body is warmed up. These lengthen muscles to help avoid tightening up.”

But if you think you have a muscle tear, resist the urge to stretch. Stretching might help prevent tears, but it won’t help them go away – it could actually make them worse. “A tear is an overextension, so repeatedly stretching can keep the extending going,” Dr. Henson  says. “You don’t want that – you want the fibers to have a chance to repair.”

Practice “PRICE” Therapy

It’s important to remember “PRICE” therapy: Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevate.

Make sure to protect any injury from further damage, considering items to assist such as crutches or braces. Allow time for the fibers to heal by resting and avoiding activities that bring the injured area pain but don’t avoid movement completely for more than 7-14 days. Ice and other anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen may also be beneficial by regulating the inflammatory response to injury. Compression, such as using an elastic wrap or bandage, can help reduce swelling – but don’t tie it too tight! Elevation also helps reduce swelling and may limit how much motion is lost, leading to a faster recovery time.

Call it a Day

Know when to call it a day. If you think you’ve pulled a muscle in the middle of a workout, play it safe – what seems like a small injury could result in months of immobility.

Dr. Henson also says to familiarize yourself with the signs of hypothermia. “Symptoms can include shivering, pale skin color, and mental changes such as speech slurring and wobbling when trying to walk.  If you notice any of these, remove yourself from the cold, change to dry clothes, add layers, and drink warm fluids.”

It’s better to end one cold workout early than to be stuck with an injury for the rest of the season!

Final Tip

Seek help if needed. If you do suffer an injury or you have pain that persists, see a doctor.

Learn more about Atrium Health Orthopedics and Sports Medicine: AtriumHealth.org/HURT.