(Inside Science TV) -- In many parts of the U.S., this winter came with record low temperatures and crippling winter storms. The frigid temperatures meant that many people had to put on a few extra layers before venturing outdoors. But for some people, cold weather is more than a nuisance: it is physically painful. These people have extreme sensitivity to cold weather.
Cold sensitivity is an abnormal response to cold temperatures, causing pain, numbness or stiffness in the hands or feet.
Physical therapist Christine Novak is learning how to help cold-sensitive patients at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute in Canada. She is working with them in a cold chamber called the Winter Lab.
First, Novak tests her cold sensitive patients' strength, sensitivity to pressure and dexterity while they are warm. For example, a pinprick finger test measures how much pressure the patients can feel. To test dexterity, the patients are asked to insert small pegs into a board with holes.
Then, inside the lab, which is kept at a chilly 24 degrees Fahrenheit, Novak runs the same battery of tests on her patients to determine how the cold temperature affects their strength, sensitivity and dexterity.
"You could see that in the 20 minutes that we were in the cold chamber that [the patient's] responses changed…touch sensation became more impaired," explained Novak.
In previous tests, patients in the cold chamber who had their torsos and forearms warmed were able to function for longer periods of time with higher degrees of dexterity and strength without wearing gloves.
"We can improve patients' responses so that they don't have as much pain, they don't have as much feelings of coldness in the cold," said Novak.