03 Feb The Science Behind Cold Weather and Your Back Pain
Growing up, you may remember hearing your older relatives complaining of aches and pains, maybe even more so when wintery weather arrived. Now, you realize they probably weren’t exaggerating, and if you’re like many adults, these days you’re probably dealing with the same issues.
Back pain as a result of cold weather is a reality many people deal with, and a drop in temperatures is all it may take to have you doubling over in discomfort. While there is debate within the medical community as to whether or not the cold contributes to back pain, the reality for those experiencing the aches is that their discomfort worsens with winter’s arrival.
People with fibromyalgia may report that their symptoms are more painful in cold damp weather, while individuals suffering from osteoarthritis complain of swelling worsening in the cold. The reality is that cold outdoor temperatures trigger muscles, tendons, and ligaments supporting the spine to tighten.
This puts strain on your spine and pulls on sensitive nerve roots exiting the spine, ultimately resulting in pain. To already inflamed joints, the change to barometric pressure or temperatures further increases swelling and pain.
Does Science Support the Claims?
Some scientific communities debate the idea surrounding weather as the direct connection to back pain, but the condition, in fact, has a medical name: cold allodynia. Several studies exist explaining the link between low temperatures and reports of pain.
A large scale study in Sweden in 2012 invited nearly 135,000 construction workers who spent extended hours working in the cold. Researchers found those individuals working outside in colder temperatures complained of increased back and neck pain. A second study in Finland found similar results.
The Connection Between Cold and Back Pain
Researchers find that cold weather, along with shorter days, are contributors for seasonal depression–which can worsen back pain. Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a depression that affects patients each year beginning in the fall and throughout the winter.
Seasonal depression can result from various factors, including the decreased amount of sunshine and a drop to your body’s serotonin levels. Individuals who experience seasonal affective disorder also report back pain on a frequent basis.
Depression can also cause increased inflammation through proteins, or cytokines. Cytokines help as cell-signaling molecules to promote the movement of healing cells toward infection and inflammation. Excessive inflammatory cytokines can lead to the kinds of inflammatory diseases that are common to sufferers of back pain and depression.
People experiencing depression are prone to developing fatigue, increased awareness of pain, and decreased levels of interest to engage in daily activities. Not exercising prevents you from strengthening the muscles to support the spine, which results in back pain.
How to Ease Back Pain During the Colder Months
If cold weather is causing you to experience back pain, find ways to remain warm at all times, including periods when you find yourself outdoors. Before heading out, prepare by wearing extra layers and consider paying close attention to keeping your back and neck well covered.
When you’re indoors, turn up the heat and have an electric blanket handy to prevent muscles from tightening on cold evenings. Find a comfortable and warm pair of slippers to wear at home; this will prevent you from falling and potentially injuring your back, which is a common occurrence that leads to painful spine conditions down the road.
Helpful Tips for Using Heat Therapy
Having discussed the importance of keeping warm to prevent back pain, heat therapy offers a great way to keep the pain associated with cold weather away. Heat therapy can become part of your daily routine by following these helpful tips:
- Heat Application – A warm towel, a heating pad, or over-the-counter heat pack or wrap applied to the affected area a few minutes a day can help manage your pain.
- Swimming – Laps in a heated pool, or even a soak in a warm whirlpool or bath, are a great way to help alleviate the discomfort of a painful back.
- Work Out – A water exercise program is the perfect way to enjoy a low-impact exercise in a warm environment.
- Increase Activity – Cold temperatures may lead you to want to stay inactive, but remember pain levels increase with a lack of movement. Raise your body temperature with leisurely walks on the treadmill, at a mall, or a community center.
Hendrick Wellness Center Offers Trusted Chiropractic Care
Hendrick Wellness Center is a McAllen-based health center offering patients quality chiropractic services designed to meet your specific back pain needs–no matter what time of year it is. If you’re suffering from shoulder, back, or neck pain, let us help you find relief.