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4 Facts About Winter Weather and Back Pain

Temperatures are dropping, and you’ve started to notice a familiar ache in your neck, lower back, or perhaps another part of your spine that was previously injured. You assume that the two things are connected – colder weather and discomfort in your back muscles and joints – and you hope that you won’t be racked with pain all winter.

Understanding how and why winter weather affects your spine is the first step to mitigating your pain. With this in mind, here are some important facts about back pain this season:

1. It’s not necessarily tied to geography.

At the Spine Health Institute, many patients visit us from states beyond our home base in Altamonte Springs, Fla. But our local patients can tell you that chronic back pain doesn’t simply disappear when you move to a southern city. It also doesn’t necessarily follow that the colder the climate, the more likely you are to experience back problems at a particular time of year.

The fact is that our bodies tend to adjust to the climate in which we reside, so changes in the temperatures to which we’ve become accustomed may be equally noticeable to those in warmer vs. cooler regions. In other words, no matter what part of the country you live in, there’s a good chance that you will experience increased back pain when the thermometer dips.

That said, if you live in a place where you have to shovel snow and traverse icy sidewalks in winter, you certainly have an increased risk of back injuries including muscle strains, sprains and more. In that case, be sure to check out our Back to Basics videos for an explanation of the proper bending, lifting and twisting techniques that can reduce your chances of getting hurt while clearing the driveway. You’ll also need to wear shoes that help you get a grip on slippery surfaces, and employ extra caution with regard to fall prevention whenever you head outside.  

2. While there is no known connection between barometric pressure and back pain, cold temperatures are associated with an increased risk of back injuries.

Many people say they experience back, neck and joint pain either just before a storm or when the temperature falls quickly, implying that their bodies are in some way able to register the barometric pressure changes that occur during such times. However, to date, there is no scientific evidence proving a correlation between declining atmospheric pressure and back pain.

One thing we do know is that when you’re cold, the muscles, tendons and ligaments in your back tighten and become less flexible, thereby making them much more prone to injuries that in turn can cause you plenty of back pain. The takeaway from this is that winter back problems may be avoidable when you wear the right clothing to keep you warm, stretch your muscles regularly, stay active and employ basic fall prevention techniques when needed.

Click here for tips on how to safely resume a normal exercise routine after you’ve experienced a back injury.

3. Dark and gloomy days in winter may contribute to depression, which in turn can cause or aggravate chronic back pain.

Colder temperatures, fewer hours of sunlight and even holiday-related stresses can combine to take a toll on your emotional wellbeing in winter. Some people experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of seasonal depression, or other depressive symptoms that may increase their sensitivity to back pain. Click here to read about the close connections between back pain and depression, and learn what you can do to combat the winter blues!

4. Shorter, colder days may discourage you from exercising, which can be a formula for back pain.

If you’re someone who enjoys exercising outdoors, it can be tough to maintain your normal workouts in winter. After all, that early morning run or evening bike ride might be dangerous as well as uncomfortable when it’s dark, wet and/or cold outside. But avoiding exercise is one of the worst things you can do for your aching back in winter. Try indoor exercises such as yoga and aerobics, swimming in an indoor heated pool, or perhaps working out on a stationary bicycle. You’ll be surprised at how much more energy and less pain you have just by staying active throughout the winter. Our Back to Basics Videos provide good examples of indoor exercises for strengthening your core and spine – so check them out. For more great ways to keep your spine safe in winter, try these three yoga poses designed to help you stretch your stressed-out back muscles.

If the arrival of colder weather makes you cringe due to the onset of back or neck pain, you can count on Dr. Chetan Patel and the Spine Health Institute to thoroughly evaluate your condition and provide you with targeted stretches and other nonsurgical therapies to mitigate your discomfort. Contact our Patient Care Coordinator at 866.986.7497 or click on the “Book Online” button at the top right of this page.

 

References:

Why Your Joints Hurt When the Weather Changes (12/10/2014). Retrieved from The Weather Channel: http://www.weather.com/health/news/why-your-joints-hurt-when-weather-changes-20141105

Weather May Not Affect Back Pain (7/16/2014). Retrieved from The New York Times: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/07/16/weather-may-not-affect-back-pain/?_r=2

Avoiding Back Pain this Fall and Winter Season (10/24/2014). Retrieved from SpineConsultants.org: http://spineconsultants.org/avoiding-back-pain-fall-winter-season/

Do Your Aches, Pains Predict Rain? (n.d.). Retrieved from Medicinenet.com: http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=52133

Sciatica in Winter: Does Cold Weather Make Back and Leg Symptoms Worse? (11/06/2015). Retrieved from SpineUniverse.com: http://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/sciatica/sciatica-winter-does-cold-weather-make-back-leg-symptoms-worse