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HOW DIFFERENT CLIMATIC CONDITIONS AFFECT MUSCLES AND NERVES?

Mya Care Blogger 29 Mar 2024
HOW DIFFERENT CLIMATIC CONDITIONS AFFECT MUSCLES AND NERVES?

Climate change affects everything from the environment to our health. But have you ever thought how climate change can impact your muscles and nerves?

The neuromuscular system coordinates movement by connecting the brain, nerves, and skeletal muscles. Motor neurons are specialized nerve cells that connect the nervous system to the muscles of the body, allowing for coordinated muscle movements.[1]

There are roughly 600 muscles in the body that are responsible for movement, stability, and posture. They comprise fibers that contract and relax to facilitate movement in the body.

There are three types of muscle fibers, each with unique functions:

  • Skeletal muscle: This is attached to bone and is responsible for voluntary movements like walking or using the hands.
  • Smooth muscle lines internal compartments, organs, and blood vessels. It governs involuntary movements such as peristalsis (the movement of food during digestion), blood vessel dilation and constriction, and breathing.
  • Cardiac muscle: This specialized muscle tissue controls and regulates the heartbeat.

The neuromuscular system responds to ambient temperature and pressure fluctuations through sensory feedback between the environment, body, and brain. Climate changes can significantly affect muscles and nerves, leading to symptoms and intensifying various health issues.

This blog reviews the known effects of climate on muscles and nerves and provides tips for maintaining their health in different weather conditions.

How Climate Affects Muscles and Nerves

The climate affects environmental temperature, pressure, and the quality of sunlight, all of which can impact the neuromuscular system in the following ways:

Colder Temperatures

When the temperature drops, our bodies work more to maintain a stable body temperature.

This extra effort, coupled with lower blood flow, can cause our muscles to become stiff, leading to muscle pain and discomfort. It can also make it more difficult for them to loosen up.

Colder temperatures can cause a decrease in blood flow as the body attempts to conserve heat by constricting the blood vessels.[2] Vasoconstriction can lead to numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.

A 2021 study found that muscle cooling lowered strength and contractile speed while increasing muscle metabolic activity. This is the result of decreased blood flow and can also lead to reduced muscle flexibility and increased risk of muscle strain, cramps, injuries, and falls.[3]

The cold, coupled with lower blood flow, can also cause nerve endings to become more sensitive, increasing pain and discomfort. Cold exposure can trigger Raynaud's syndrome, worsen pre-existing nerve conditions, and exacerbate nerve-related pain.

Wind chill intensifies the effects of cold temperatures, causing increased muscle soreness and fatigue from the increased exertion of balancing against the wind.[4]

Heat and Humidity

On the other hand, hot and humid weather can also impact muscles and nerves.

Heat increases energy consumption as the muscles attempt to cool down on top of performing physically.

Muscles naturally heat up during exercise, and this helps them work properly. A mild increase in muscle temperature of 1 degree can improve performance by 2-5%[5]. It can also lower the odds of muscle injury and strain, so a warm-up before working out is advisable.

However, if the body gets overheated in hot weather, it can increase blood flow and sweating, leading to significant health problems, such as:

  • Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
  • An increased risk of heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. Heatstroke can cause damage to nerves and raise the risk of long-term neurological complications.

Humidity adds to heat-related effects by lowering the amount one sweats, making it harder for the body to cool down.

Overheating affects nerve function, interfering with the feedback between the brain and body.[6] The heat heightens nerve conduction and sensitivity, potentially increasing pain and other neurological symptoms such as tremors.

This disruption, in turn, affects muscle function and can strain the heart. When coupled with a faster energy consumption rate, heat stress lowers muscles' ability to contract, reducing their strength and endurance. However, it can also enhance their power output in short bursts.

Hot weather can also exacerbate certain muscle conditions like myasthenia gravis. For those with arthritis, hot and humid weather can also worsen the symptoms. The heat and humidity can cause joints to swell, increasing pain and stiffness.

Barometric Pressure

Barometric pressure encompasses the weight of the air in the atmosphere. Changes in barometric pressure occur in response to variations in atmospheric conditions, such as changes in weather systems, altitude, and temperature.

They can affect the body's tissues and fluids, including those in the muscles and nerves.

Lower barometric pressure causes bodily tissues to expand due to fluid and gas redistribution, which increases their volume. This tissue expansion can place pressure on nerves, causing pain and discomfort in susceptible individuals.[7]

Barometric pressure changes can also affect nerve sensitivity and pain perception, with low pressure possibly contributing to headaches and migraines, while high pressure may lead to stiffness.

Altitude

Altitude is the height above sea level. As altitude increases, the air becomes thinner, making it more challenging for the body to get enough oxygen to meet its needs. This can result in muscle fatigue and weakness, making physical activity more challenging.[8]

Additionally, altitude can also affect the nervous system. The lack of oxygen can cause nerve cells to become damaged, leading to symptoms like numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness.

These effects are minimal for people with a strong ancestry of predecessors who lived at a high altitude and have the right genetics.

Some people experience altitude sickness at high altitudes, which demands prompt medical attention. If you experience sudden symptoms such as a headache, severe fatigue, insomnia, dizziness, or breathlessness, seek help immediately.[9]

Sunlight

Sunlight is vital for vitamin D production, which is crucial for muscle function and nerve health. One study highlights how vitamin D supplementation in deficient women helped improve their balance, enhanced the function of their lower extremities, and reduced the chances of falling.

On the other hand, lengthy exposure to UV rays can injure the skin and increase the risk of melanoma.[10] Some melanomas can grow into nerves, ultimately impacting nerve and muscle function.

Finding a balance between sun exposure for vitamin D production and protecting the skin from UV damage is essential for maintaining optimal muscle function and nerve health.

Older Age

Age can significantly influence the impact of climate on muscles and nerves as the body’s functionality slowly declines. Older individuals may have decreased mobility, muscle strength, and flexibility, making them more susceptible to the effects of extreme temperatures. Seniors are also more likely to take several prescription medications, some of which can intensify these effects.[11]

Health Conditions

Due to the impact of hot and cold temperatures on muscles, symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders like muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis can worsen, commonly leading to increased pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility.

Neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, neuropathy, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease can also be affected by climate, with symptoms potentially worsening in extreme temperatures or humidity. Heat intolerance is a common concern, as is too little blood flow in the cold. Either of these can promote nerve damage and lead to extreme symptoms.[12]

Other ways the climate can affect those with conditions include[13]:

  • Strokes are worse and more frequent during days when the temperature fluctuates broadly
  • Heart attacks are more prevalent during hot weather
  • Sudden temperature changes take a toll on the immune system raising the odds of contracting an infection.

Tips for Maintaining Muscle and Nerve Health in Different Climates

Now that we understand how climate can affect our muscles and nerves, let us explore some tips for maintaining health in different weather conditions.

Cold Weather

If you live in a colder climate or are planning to visit one, here are some tips for maintaining muscle and nerve health:

  • Dress in layers to keep your body warm and prevent muscle stiffness
  • Stay active and stretch regularly to keep your muscles warm and flexible
  • Employ heat therapy to soothe muscle pain and joint stiffness, such as a heating pad or warm bath
  • Stay hydrated to prevent muscle cramps
  • Consider taking supplements like magnesium and vitamin D to support muscle and nerve health
  • Avoid caffeine, as this can enhance vasoconstriction and lower blood flow[14]

Hot Weather

If you live in a hot and humid climate or are planning to visit one, here are some tips for maintaining muscle and nerve health:

  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and electrolyte-rich beverages
  • Avoid overexertion and intensive physical activity during the hottest part of the day
  • Wear loose, breathable clothing to prevent overheating
  • Use cold therapy, such as ice packs or cold showers, to soothe muscle pain
  • Consider taking supplements like potassium and calcium to support muscle and nerve health

High Altitude and Low Barometric Pressure

If you live in a high-altitude area with low atmospheric pressure or are planning to visit one, here are some tips for maintaining muscle and nerve health:

  • Take it slow and allow your body time to adjust to the altitude
  • Stay hydrated to increase oxygen intake and prevent muscle fatigue
  • Refrain from alcohol and caffeine, which dehydrate the body
  • Consider taking supplements like iron and vitamin B12 to support muscle and nerve health
  • If you experience dizziness, shortness of breath, or chest pain, seek medical attention immediately

Similar advice applies to milder situations where the atmospheric pressure may drop as a storm approaches. Stay hydrated, stretch, and exercise to keep your joints loose.[15]

Adapting to Different Climates During Exercise

For athletes and those who enjoy working out, adapting to different climates is essential for maintaining peak performance. Here are some tips:

  • Train in different weather conditions to prepare your body for different climates
  • Stay hydrated and replenish electrolytes when exercising during hot weather
  • Pay extra attention to warming up the body in a colder climate
  • Use heat and cold therapy (in contrasting climates) to soothe muscle pain and prevent injury
  • Take supplements to support muscle and nerve health
  • Listen to your body and adjust your training accordingly

Conclusion

Climate change can significantly impact our muscles and nerves, leading to various health issues. By understanding how different climates affect our bodies, we can take steps to maintain muscle and nerve health and adapt to different weather conditions. Remember to stay hydrated, use heat and cold therapy as needed, and consider taking supplements to support your muscles and nerves.

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Sources:

  • [1] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/muscles
  • [2]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507838/
  • [3]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8471173/
  • [4] https://www.noaa.gov/jetstream/synoptic/wind-chill
  • [5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21029186/
  • [6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32608071/
  • [7]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6347159/
  • [8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9286620/
  • [9] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/altitude-sickness
  • [10] https://acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/cncr.32619
  • [11] https://www.epa.gov/climateimpacts/climate-change-and-health-older-adults
  • [12] https://www.henryford.com/blog/2024/01/how-the-cold-weather-affects-neurological-conditions
  • [13] https://health.veininstitutenj.com/blog/how-heat-and-cold-can-affect-blood-flow
  • [14] https://lluh.org/services/neuropathic-therapy-center/blog/four-tips-combat-nerve-pain-during-cold-weather
  • [15] https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/altitude-sickness

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