During the last few weeks, I have seen several patients with stiff and painful backs, shoulders and necks. This has coincided with a sudden change in the weather, from a mild early autumn to cold and freezing temperatures. Could this just be a coincidence? Chinese medicine, based on thousands of years of observational evidence, would say it is not.
It was during my Acupuncture training that I learnt to think of us not just as people with individual internal problems, but more as animals who are part of our environment, constantly being affected by it and needing to adapt to any changes. Therefore it makes sense that at times of year when there are large changes in temperature, such as the autumn and spring, we are more vulnerable to aches and pains, coughs and colds, as our bodies are already under the strain of adapting to the environment.
Thinking back to my childhood, I remember being reminded by my Mum to tuck my vest in and to wear my balaclava before my journey by bus to school. In those days people travelled more often by public transport and wore vests, and added hats, scarves and gloves each time they went out in the cold. These days most of us have the luxury of central heating and warm cars to travel around in and so tend not to wrap up as well as we should. Instead we hop between house and car without wearing a scarf or keeping our back properly covered by tucking clothes in at the waist.
In order to adapt to the cold our blood vessels contract to preserve heat at our core, meaning our muscles will have a reduced blood supply. It’s when we ask those cold muscles to move suddenly that problems occur and we end up with muscle spasms and pain, which can become chronic. So it makes sense to keep our muscles warm, wear a scarf, ‘tuck that vest in’, even if we are just popping out to the car!