Spine Health: Wellness in Winter with Dr. Tom Walters

Spine health is interrelated to every other part of the body. No one knows this better than a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Enter Dr. Tom Walters, National Spine Health Foundation ambassador and founder of Rehab Science. We enjoy following Dr. Walters’ account on Instagram for his easy, at-home stretches and exercises that benefit the whole body.

Spine Health: Pain in the Winter

We spoke with Dr. Walters about the value of maintaining consistent physical health goals throughout the winter, even when it feels hard. Though he now lives in Southern California, Dr. Walters grew up in Montana so he is very familiar with cold weather problems.

“I would see it more in the peripheral joints, like knees and shoulders,” he explained, when we asked about the tendency of cold weather to increase pain. Unfortunately, back and neck pain can increase in winter, as well.

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A few reasons why pain may increase in the winter:

Change in Barometric Pressure
A change in Barometric pressure can cause the body’s tendons, muscles, bones, and scar tissues to expand and contract, which can increase pain.

Sedentary Movement
In colder climates, there is often less movement in the winter, meaning people sit in unhelpful positions too much and for too long, hindering their spine health.

Emotional Factors
In winter, people tend to be more down and depressed. When emotional health is ailing, it can cause physical health to decline as well.

How Can You Decrease Pain in the Winter?

There are several practical ways you can help relieve added back or neck pain in winter months. Spine health thrives when patients take a more holistic approach to pain. Here are a few ways to help:

Dress Warmly
It may be obvious, but sometimes it is just a matter of ensuring you are dressed as warmly as you need to be. Always bring an extra sweater, thick socks, or gloves — even inside.

Ingest Warm Things
Stock up on homemade soups, coffee, hot tea, hot chocolate — even hot water with lemon. Ensure your cabinets have healthy, whole ingredients that will warm you up from the inside out.

Move Your Body
It’s not just about sweating, but about getting the affected parts of the body moving.

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“We know that when tissues get warmer, they become more elastic,” said Dr. Walters. “If I were living somewhere cold and feeling more painful, it would be a good idea to implement more…mobility routines.”

This leads to the important point about consistency. On the @RehabScience Instagram account, Dr. Walters posted a video of a 73-year-old man doing box jumps. That’s not something you see often, so I asked him about how someone of that age could possibly be doing such a strenuous exercise.

Consistency was the key word.

“Most older people lose power as they get older, the ability to use force quickly,” said Walters. “There’s just example of how resistance training — especially — helps to keep your physical system healthy for your whole life.”

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Tips for Staying Consistent

Develop a routine
They say it takes at least 21 days to make a habit, so don’t expect to adapt to a routine right away. Schedule out what exercises or habits you want to incorporate and do them consistently (even when it’s hard!) for a month. This will train your brain to start doing it more automatically.

Start in the morning
By making the first thing you do in the AM part of your healthy routine, it helps set the tone for the rest of the day. Think of one thing — perhaps a mobility stretch — and start there.

Write it down
Write your goals down on a notepad or calendar. You may think you’ll remember, but it’s all too easy to forget the details. If it’s written down and you confront it on the bathroom mirror or calendar each day, you will be sure to remember.

Make it fun
There’s a reason grown men play in soccer leagues or women take Zumba classes — they love those activities! Exercising can either be a grueling task or something fun you look forward to. Find something you can do consistently that brings you joy.

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