Neck Pain and Shoulder Stiffness in Cold Weather

By Adelaide Women's Physio | April 11, 2017

When the autumn chill is around us, it is very common for your aches and pains to feel stronger and to be with you more often. You feel like huddling up in a ball to try and keep warm. Many people also move less in cold weather because they feel stiffness with general movement.

Even manageable neck and shoulder symptoms can suddenly become more difficult to handle in cold weather.

If you understand what effects cold air can have on tissues of the neck and shoulder region, you will be able to take positive action to help yourself minimise neck and shoulder pain and stiffness in winter.

When temperatures drop why can neck pain and stiffness be experienced?

  • In cool weather our nervous system may trigger changes in the body, where muscles tighten up to constrict blood vessels in the arms, neck and shoulder blades. This is thought to be a reaction to decrease heat loss from the limbs and body periphery, enabling body core temperature to be maintained to vital organs.
  • Lengthy periods of muscles being held in a shortened, tight state can increase our perception of pain.
  • Feelings of anxiety and fear can be enhanced in cold weather which leads to increased negative nervous system responses.
  • Discomfort, niggles and pain in the neck and shoulders are often related to poor posture when temperatures drop.
  • It is common to do the following in cold weather: Lift and hold your shoulders tightly.  Round your mid-back by slouching. Poke your chin forward. This change in posture can lead to pain.
  • Discomfort in cold weather can also stop us from moving as often and as well as we should be doing daily, which generates joint stiffness with decreased muscle flexibility. Once again the fear we hold within our nervous system becomes the driver for decreased movement or poor movement patterns.

What can I do to ease my neck/shoulder pain and stiffness?

  • Avoid cold, damp places with drafts.
  • Wear warmer clothes (even when indoors) – cuddly scarves, hats, thermal vest, gloves, thick socks, jacket with collar.
  • Safely use hot packs on your shoulders, mid-back or neck.
  • Avoid curled up, hunched over, sloppy posture.
  • Allow your shoulders to be relaxed and gently down.
  • Tuck your chin in gently with your eyes straight ahead, feeling your neck grow long.
  • Circle your shoulders forward and back with small movements.
  • Relax whilst sipping a favourite drink and feel good about yourself.
  • Go for a brisk 15 minute walk, several times a day, wearing warm clothing.
  • Swim in a heated pool.
  • Relax in a spa or hot bath.

When do I seek Physiotherapy for loss of neck and shoulder function?

If you have made a good effort with the above suggestions over a 24 to 48 hour period, but your neck pain, shoulder stiffness and loss of movement continues, it is time to make an appointment with one of our Physiotherapists.

At Physiotherapy for Women our highly trained Physios know the importance of:

  • Assessing your neck or shoulder condition.
  • Discussing the findings with you and setting a treatment management plan.
  • Choosing treatment options to decrease your pain, release muscle spasm, mobilise joints, restore functional movement.
  • Selecting appropriate stretches, exercises, and posture training that are right for you.
  • Giving advice on work, home or gym activity to decrease strain on unhappy tissues.

The longer neck pain and shoulder stiffness are put up with in the hope it will “one day go away,” usually means the muscle and joint issue requires more treatment sessions to restore healthy movement and a feeling of wellness. Act now for your own well-being.