Back pain plagues anyone and everyone at some point in their lives, whether it’s because of an injury, their lifestyle, their posture, a condition, or aging pains. One thing that can supposedly exacerbate or cause back pain, however, is cold weather. Those who regularly suffer from pain in their lumbar region often report that the condition worsens in the winter months. Even men and women who don’t experience this kind of pain year-round will see their primary care providers for it once it starts getting colder outside. But what is it about the cold that induces chronic back pain? Is there scientific evidence to support the correlation between the two? Read on to learn how to deal with back pain in cold weather.
Can Cold Weather Make Your Body Ache?
While there is no conclusive scientific evidence to support the idea, there are numerous studies that suggest that cold temperatures cause muscle tendons and ligaments throughout the body (especially along the spine) to tighten. This leads to restricted movements and painful inflammation that results in severe lumbar aches and pains. Winter weather regularly leads to a rise in reports of neck pain, joint pain, back pain, and general body aches in both sick and healthy individuals, with back pain being the second most common reason people visit their physicians in the winter months after colds and the flu.
Why is Back Pain Worse in Winter?
Aside from the way cold temperatures affect your tendons and ligaments, are there other correlations that exist between weather and back pain? None that have been proven. If the issue is muscle pain, then the cold is the most likely culprit. However, if the back pain is caused by bone or nerve pain, cold weather will have no effect on your condition either way. Similarly, while barometric pressure is a common part of the conversation when discussing back and joint pains, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that changes in atmospheric pressure directly correlates with these pains.
So, to put it plainly, your back pain is likely worse in the winter for other reasons. Some additional possibilities are:
Seasonal depression making it difficult to exercise or do regular colder weather activities that keep your body healthy, thereby making you more susceptible to aches and pains.
Sicknesses that are common in colder weather such as the flu, bronchitis, or pneumonia either directly causing your body aches or leading to extended periods of time in sedentary positions.
Injuries that occur during strenuous winter activities such as shoveling, ice-scraping, and salting.
Can Being Sick Make Your Back Hurt?
Absolutely. Several common winter illnesses can directly lead to back pain, though the cold weather itself wasn’t the cause. For example:
The flu – One of the symptoms of the flu is joint pain and muscle aches, along with lethargy and exhaustion.
Bronchitis and pneumonia – Difficulty breathing is often either caused by or leads to inflammation and coughing, both of which agitate back muscles and lead to upper and lower back pain.
What Helps Back Pain from Cold Weather?
Doctors recommend an assortment of ways to avoid back pain during cold weather, including but not limited to:
Keeping yourself bundled up nice and warm if you have to be outside in the cold. The warmer you keep your body, the less likely you are to suffer from painful muscle and ligament tightening.
Stretching and exercising regularly. This is something that any decent physician will recommend regardless of back pain as it’s just a general part of staying healthy, but keeping limber and training your muscles will also help your back muscles stay loose and strong.
Avoid pushing yourself too hard while doing outdoor activities such as shoveling snow and ice off of driveways and sidewalks, scraping ice off of surfaces, carrying heavy bags of salt to scatter across the ground, and even fun activities like building snowmen and sledding. Any of these activities can cause injury when you don’t pace yourself and listen to your body.
The best thing that you can do to either avoid or manage back pain during the winter months is to keep yourself warm, healthy, and limber. Treat your body well, don’t ignore its signs if you have to spend extended periods of time outside or otherwise working in the cold, and do what you can to limit your risks of inflammation.
If you are feeling numbness or extreme back pain, we highly recommend visiting an emergency room. At Village Emergency Centers, we offer quality and compassionate emergency care without the wait. Stop by one of our 24-hour locations in Katy, River Oaks, Clear Creek, and Jersey Village.
Isaac Grate M.D.
Dr. Isaac Grate is an Emergency Medicine Physician in Houston, Texas with over 41 years of Emergency Medicine Experience. Board Certified in Emergency Medicine, Dr. Grate received his Medical Degree from Meharry Medical College.