Some people experience muscle pain in cold weather. This may be due to the effects of cold temperatures. For example, being cold can make muscles tense.

Cold weather may increase the risk of muscle injury, or influence how and when people feel pain. However, scientists are still learning about the potential links.

This article discusses the ways that cold weather may cause or worsen muscle pain and ways that a person may prevent or manage this pain.

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It may be possible for cold weather to cause or contribute to muscle pain or muscle injury. However, research on this is still evolving.

Scientists do know that people with pre-existing muscle pain can experience worse symptoms in cold weather, particularly if they have certain underlying conditions.

For example, fibromyalgia causes long-term and widespread muscle pain throughout the body. A 2021 review found that a subgroup of people with fibromyalgia perceive cold temperatures as physically painful, worsening their symptoms.

This does not necessarily mean all people with muscle pain in cold weather have a chronic condition, though. There are several reasons why people may have this symptom.

There are several theories about the potential relationship between cold weather and aches and pains in the muscles. These include:

  • Muscle tension: Cold temperatures cause muscles and tendons to stiffen. In some cases, a person may shiver, which occurs when the muscles rapidly tighten and relax to create heat. This is part of the body’s way of staying warm, but it may result in muscle tension or aches, especially if a person is cold for long periods.
  • Muscle injury: Research has not established a direct causal link between cold weather and injuries, but the authors of a 2021 review theorize that there may be a connection. Cold weather may affect muscle power, dexterity, or fatigue, increasing the risk of injuring muscles during physical activity.
  • Pain sensation: A 2022 review of previous studies notes that cold temperatures may affect pain sensitivity or tolerance. In some cases, they may also play a role in nerve inflammation.
  • Behavior changes: Some people are less physically active during cold weather than they are in warm weather. A lack of activity may lead to muscle stiffness or weakness, which could result in pain.

It is unclear how common muscle pain is during cold weather. This is, in part, because there is not yet definitive proof that one directly causes the other. This makes it difficult to know whether mild aches and pains are typical.

That said, anecdotal evidence suggests that many people do experience this problem. Whether it is cause for concern or not may depend on the individual, and whether there are any other underlying causes.

Any muscle pain that occurs suddenly, is severe, or interferes with a person’s ability to do daily tasks could be a sign of an underlying health condition. People who notice significant pain should speak with a doctor.

Home remedies for muscle pain may help reduce this symptom and ease discomfort. However, it is important to note that they cannot treat underlying conditions.

Some ways of alleviating muscle pain in cold weather include:

  • Warming the body: Where possible, try and stay warm in cold weather by keeping the body’s core at a comfortable temperature. When a person is warm enough, it may help the muscles relax.
  • Warming the muscle: Muscles that are cold and tense may benefit from more specific heat application. A person may use a warm compress, heat pack, hot water bottle on the muscle.
  • Stretching: Gentle stretches can help extend tight, stiff muscles and tendons and may help with certain muscular conditions, such as back pain. However, it is best to ask a doctor before trying them and to start slowly.
  • Massage: Massage can also help muscles relax and increase blood flow. People can learn self-massage techniques at home, or visit a massage therapist.

If cold weather is a cause of someone’s muscle pain, then the most straightforward way to prevent it is by staying warm wherever possible.

Tips for keeping warm include:

  • keeping the home heated, as much as possible
  • blocking draughts in the home
  • wearing loose layers of clothing, rather than one thick layer, to trap heat
  • when outdoors, wearing waterproof and insulated coats and boots
  • when indoors, wearing socks and slippers
  • covering exposed skin with hats, scarves, and gloves
  • avoiding going outside when the weather is very cold or windy
  • eating enough food to maintain body weight

When exercising outside or participating in outdoor sports, it may also help to take extra steps that could reduce the risk of soreness. These include:

  • warming up the muscles before a workout
  • wearing the appropriate clothing, with sweat-wicking base layers
  • changing out of sweaty clothing promptly, as sweat evaporation can make a person colder
  • eating enough carbohydrates, as being cold uses up energy

Anyone with new, unexplained muscle pain that does not improve should speak with a doctor if they can, even if they believe the cause is cold weather.

Muscle pain can occur for many reasons. A doctor can identify the cause and help a person reduce their discomfort.

People who frequently feel cold at home or in the workplace can also speak with a doctor about ways to reduce the effects.

For those having difficulty heating their home, there are government programs in the United States that may be able to help, such as the Low Income Energy Assistance Program.

Some people may experience muscle pain in cold weather. This could be new muscle pain or worsening of an existing condition.

Scientists do not yet fully understand the link, but there are a number of potential explanations, such as muscle tension, an increased risk of injury, or changes in pain tolerance.

There are several ways a person can reduce muscle pain in cold weather, as well as home remedies to help relieve and manage pain. If a person’s pain is impacting their day-to-day life, they should speak with a doctor.