Pain and Cold Weather

February 2021

By Michaela McClintock, LAc, DAc

Chances are, if you ran into your acupuncturist outside of the office this time of year you may not recognize her. But it is not because she is trying to go incognito. She is bundling up to stay warm to preserve and protect her Qi.

Living in harmony with the cycles of nature is the foundation of Chinese medicine. It is important to be conscious of respecting the current season and time of year. This means paying attention to lessons learned from thousands of years of East Asian wisdom about how Qi responds to the current season, and how to stay in balance and promote health. A significant factor in well-being and living pain-free this time of year is to understand how the body interacts with cold. One of the key pieces of homework given to patients who experience pain and discomfort is to protect their Qi from the cold in between visits.

Acupuncture figure front

Many painful conditions can be caused by cold affecting the body’s channels and meridians. It can cause pain and stiffness in the neck, contribute to headaches, worsen congestion and lower the immune system. Coats, hats and scarves are always particularly important during the winter season to stay strong and healthy. Acupuncturists spend a lot of time correcting the imbalances that are caused by exposure to cold, like running out to the car without a proper coat and hat. Time in an acupuncture session is better spent supporting a patient’s top priorities rather than being monopolized by correcting the cold damage that is common this time of year.

Another lesser-known way cold damage enters the body’s channels is through the feet. As shown in the picture, there are six primary channels that begin or end in the feet. People who suffer from swollen or painful feet, knees, legs, low back, menstrual cramps and more are often unknowingly worsening the problem by going barefoot on cold floors, forgetting warm socks and not wearing protective footwear indoors and especially outdoors. Even brief exposure to cold and/or wind can cause or worsen these kinds of issues. There are many ways in which cold causes pain when it bypasses the protective Qi through the feet. While widely touted as “good for inflammation,” cold inhibits and slows the circulation, which reduces healing and natural functions of the body. When there is not a healthy circulation of Qi and blood, dysfunction can occur followed by pain.

Bundle up and stay as warm as possible this winter to protect Qi and maintain balance.