According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, about 80% of adults experience lower back pain at some point in their life. During the winter, some people complain that they have new or worsening back pain. But, what is the link between cold weather and back pain?
Links Between Cold Weather and Back Pain
Because back pain can be caused by several conditions, cold weather will affect people differently. A few things that may contribute to back pain during the winter months include a lack of exercise, stiff muscles, seasonal mood disorders, and winter-specific activities.
A lot of people get most of their exercise outdoors. After all, taking a walk outside is one of the most effective and accessible ways to get moving. When it gets colder out, you may not want to leave the warmth of the indoors to exercise. If you become sedentary during the winter, your muscles, including the ones in your back, will stiffen and ache.
It is a well-known fact that when muscles and tendons get cold, they stiffen up. This is a major link between cold weather and back pain. If the muscles and tendons in your back are stiff, you will experience pain and have difficulty moving.
Because the days are shorter during cold weather months, many people do not get as much sunlight as usual. This can cause a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Other things like holiday stress can also contribute to depression. Not everyone knows that there is a link between mood disorders like depression and back pain. Aches and pains are symptoms of depression and those who are depressed might be more sensitive to pain. People with SAD will also have less motivation to exercise.
If you live somewhere that gets ice and snow, you might have to add certain chores to your list. Shoveling snow is known to cause neck, shoulders and back pain. You can help prevent this by practicing the correct shoveling technique, living with your legs and keeping your back straight. Choosing an ergonomic shovel that is lightweight can also help prevent injury. Also, make sure you wear appropriate footwear with treads that will grip the ground in icier conditions. Slipping and falling is the last thing you need when trying to manage back pain in the winter.
Managing Back Pain in Cold Weather
If you are experiencing back pain related to cold weather, try the following methods to manage your symptoms.
Keeping your muscles warm when you go outside in cold weather may help with back pain. Bundle up when temperatures drop, but make sure you wear comfortable layers that you can move freely in. It’s no use dressing for the weather if it makes you immobile.
Getting physical therapy to loosen and warm muscles can help with back pain aggravated by cold weather. Your doctor can recommend the right type of physical therapy for you. Therapies that may relieve your pain include heating pads and wraps, massage therapy, decompression therapy, and dry needling.
Keeping your muscles loose is one of the best ways to prevent and relieve back pain. Even when it’s cold outside there are still plenty of ways to stay active. On days when it isn’t too cold, dress in warm layers and go for a walk outside to get exercise, sunshine, and fresh air. You can also walk inside on a treadmill or use an elliptical machine if you have access to a gym. Many community centers have indoor or heated pools that are open year-round and swimming is a great form of low-impact exercise. Making stretching part of your routine is also key when managing back pain in cold weather. Light weightlifting can also help keep you limber and strong.
When it’s cold outside, sometimes there’s nothing better than soaking in a hot bath. Whether you use the tub in your bathroom or have access to a hot tub, a nice soak can loosen muscles and temporarily relieve pain. Some fitness centers also have heated pools, so you can combine the benefits of exercise and hot water.
Make an Appointment
Dr. Nael Shanti of Cary Orthopaedics Spine Center is certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery and is an expert in diagnosing and treating conditions of the spine and back. If you are experiencing back pain this winter, then he will work with you to develop a treatment plan that makes the most sense for you. To make an appointment with Dr. Shanti, call (919) 297-0000, or request an appointment online.