By Arielle Zuaro
and Trevor Skanes
Dreary weather and colder temperatures during the winter months have been shown to weaken athletes’ bodies, increasing chances of back injury and muscle strains and tears.
“Since we didn’t really have a cold season this fall, there have been more problems, because there wasn’t a slow progression from warm to cold,” said athletic trainer Laura Friedman, “Then the ground wasn’t able to gradually go from softer to harder [so] there have more complaints of shin and ankle pain. It starts in the feet and the pain radiates up the legs to shins, knees and back.”
Sophomore Andy Xu was running outside “in the blistering cold” for track practice when he re-injured his back. “My muscles became stiff and I severely pulled the muscles lining my spine,” said Xu.
Colder temperatures also force an athlete’s heart to work harder because there is a slower response rate. “Muscle constriction occurs due to the cold, [which] constricts blood vessels and affects the blood flow,” said Friedman. “This also affects the transport of nutrition to muscles in the body as well as lactic acid away from the muscles.” Decreased blood flow causes muscles around the knees, back and shins to become tight and weak.
Dr. John Parenti, director of Orthopedics at Geisinger Medical Center in Pennsylvania, cites nerve endings around joints as being more sensitive to changes in air pressure, affecting pain in the body. This discomfort sometimes lingers.
“It is always there, but I muscle through it,” said Xu.
These seasonal pains are not just physical, but psychological as well. Overcast skies tend to negatively affect people’s moods. It has been proven scientifically that sunshine and warmth increase athletic performance due to the vitamin D provided by the suns rays. According to the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, not only is vitamin D vital for bone health, but athletes with higher levels of vitamin D are also able to jump higher, move quicker and with greater power then their peers who are vitamin D deficient. Also according to BBC research, athletes are able to take longer strides in warmer weather.
Should athletes be forced to practice in the cold there are measures they can take to avoid injury. “Athletes should really focus on getting the body warmed up and staying warm. This will help with flexibility and normal motion. The last thing you would want to see is an athlete compensating due to tightness,” said Friedman.