It was exciting coming to a place where I could finally wear big overcoats, snuggly scarves and arty beanies. I never had a need for them back in Australia. The Norwegian winter style was classic, romantic and down right fun to wear. I learned several new ways to wear scarves – it’s all in the tying – and tried out many beanie designs. You’d be amazed at the beanie range – slouched, pom pomed, folded or unfolded edged, twisted inside out, tubed, bowl cut, knitted, cotton, wool… I was in beanie heaven. And the jackets! My favourite is tight, to the hip, with a faux fur lined hoodie to keep the snow off my face (a Russia influenced style). But alas, fashion is pain.
After a couple of years of wearing the heavy, bulky and restricting cold weather dressings I started to get ‘winter neck pain’. Having all the extra wool and thick material tied around my neck prevented me from turning my head or moving my shoulders. I suddenly knew how the Harold Finch character felt from Person of Interest,(well, the actor), with having to look both ways to across the road, turning my whole body, like I had a neck brace. After taking the outside clothes off, my neck and shoulder muscles felt strained, stiff and creaky. I just thought it was me, that my Australian body wasn’t used to having so many clothes piled around my neck like Norwegians.
It was only this season (after ten of them) that I casually mentioned my ‘Christmas Crick’ problem to Moose when I found out he gets it too. And then I asked around, and every Norwegian I’ve spoken to has the same problem. Well… so it was not just little old me then.
Neck pain seems to be a regular winter issue for Norwegians and I’m wondering why there isn’t a national health campaign to educate people of keeping their neck safe and healthy. Neck pain also seems to be exasperated by sleep problems. The Norwegian Hunt Study concluded that:
“Sleep problems are associated with an increased risk of chronic pain in the low back and neck/shoulders.”
In the Arctic we live in insomnia central. Even Norwegians can’t escape their bio-clocks being tampered with by the darkness. With insomnia and neck problems to boot, no wonder Norwegians can seem a little icy in the cold public street – an international reputation that should be debunked now considering.
I haven’t heard of any local remedies for neck pain, (yet! I’m expecting a blue berry tea paste or something to spread on the skin – blue berries are good for everything here), but the Hunt study clearly stated that:
“Regular exercise and maintenance of normal body weight may reduce the adverse effect of mild sleep problems on risk of chronic pain”.
Solve the sleep problems and you can help solve the neck problems. But Norwegians do know that regular outdoor exercise, even on the coldest days, especially during the blue light (midday twilight – Alta has no sun over Christmas), helps the body dramatically cope over winter.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health has a fact sheet giving stats on neck pain in Norway. Women apparently report more neck pain, and have to take more sick days off from work because of it – no wonder, with all the scarf material hanging around their necks for six months of the year. However, this point is not considered as one of the causes, which are: heredity, workload, pain sensitivity, psychological factors and side effects of surgery. Maybe the researches need to consider cultural issues of wearing clothes as well as the regular medical and environment issues. But they too mention that physical activity is the best prevention against chronic neck pain.
So, this Christmas I will be taking measures into my own hands, now that I am aware of the problem, with regular neck and shoulder stretches and exercises (and massages from Moose if I’m lucky) to make the dark season a little easier on the body, at least.