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4 Causes of Winter Back Pain (and What to Do About It)

January 19th, 2021

Winter is here, and for many, so are the aches and pains that come with it. Back pain is a struggle any time of year, but somehow it seems to get worse during the cold winter months.

But why?

Why Does Cold Weather Cause Back Pain?

Although scientists have yet to come up with an official explanation…cold weather back pain is real. Here are a few potential winter back pain triggers.

Stiff Joints and Muscles

When the weather is cold, there is less blood flow to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that support the spine. This decreased blood flow can cause tightening of surrounding tissue which can increase strain on the spine and pull on spinal nerves. Shivering from the cold can also leave muscles feeling tight or cramped.

Barometric Pressure

If you know someone who suffers from arthritis, you’ve probably heard them say they can predict a storm based on their pain levels. Cold weather can have a similar impact. While there is no existing evidence of a link between barometric pressure and back pain, there definitely seems to be a connection. One possible cause is that a sudden drop in barometric pressure can lead to increased inflammation which puts additional pressure on the joints and structures in the back.

Lack of Exercise

When the cold weather hits, many people decide to put off exercising until the weather warms up again. Cuddling up under a blanket may be the more inviting option, but it’s definitely worse for your back.

When your body doesn’t get enough exercise, you lose strength, stability, and flexibility. Not only does inactivity cause stiffness and tension—it also leaves you especially susceptible to injury when shoveling snow, building a snowman, or even scraping ice from your windshield.

Seasonal Depression

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a form of depression that affects many during the cold, dark days of winter. Some studies have suggested that depression can lead to chronic back pain. Seasonal depression can also cause fatigue, decreased activity, and increased perception of pain.

How to Prevent Winter Back Pain

We can’t change the weather…but we CAN prepare for it. Check out this weather & arthritis index to see how upcoming weather conditions could potentially affect your pain levels and follow the tips below to keep your back pain in check.

  • Stay warm—Keep your home at a comfortable temperature and dress for the weather when you go outside. Wear a few layers and remember to keep your back and neck covered.
  • Prevent accidents—Take your time, watch your step, and keep an eye out for potential hazards that could get in your way or cause a slip. Click here to learn how to prevent common winter injuries.
  • Stay Active—Get up and get moving. If it’s too cold outside to take a walk, try some yoga or turn on your favorite playlist and dance around your living room. *Check with your doctor before beginning any new diet or fitness program. Always listen to your body and stick to movements that are comfortable for you.* Click here to learn some of the best exercises for back pain.
  • Maintain a healthy diet—Avoid consuming too much sugar, processed foods, or alcohol as these can cause inflammation and make pain worse. Try to stick to anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans/nuts, and fish.
  • Shovel Safely—Choose the right shovel, lift properly, and pace yourself. Click here for more snow shoveling safety tips.
  • Relax—Grab your favorite blanket and take a break; but remember…lying around all day will only make back pain WORSE. Try to get up and walk around every hour or two.

Remember, back pain may be common, but that doesn’t mean you have to live with it. Back and neck pain can be caused by a variety of factors and can worsen over time. If pain persists beyond a couple weeks or occurs following an injury, it’s important to see a doctor to determine the source of the pain.

Our team of experienced and certified orthopaedic surgeons is here to help ease your pain and get you on the road to recovery. For more information about our individualized treatment plans and services for spinal disorders, or if you would like to schedule a consultation with one of our surgeons, please contact us today.