Winter Weather and Back Pain

In Texas, we are fortunate to only experience relatively mild winters compared to other parts of the country. The coldest period tends to be late-December through mid-February. No matter how mild the winter, cooler temperatures have the potential to exasperate back pain (and joint pain) especially for those with conditions such as osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. While there is minimal evidence to support the connection between weather and back pain, there are several reasons why your pain may be affected by the season.

  1. Vasoconstriction: When exposed to cold temperatures, the blood vessels in your extremities narrow to deliver extra blood to more vital areas such as your brain, heart, lungs and bowels–a process called vasoconstriction. This results in the tightening of your muscles, tendons and ligaments, which are all vital to supporting your spine. As these become stiff, it places extra strain on the back that may result in pain or discomfort.
  2. Barometric Pressure: There have been no scientific studies to prove a connection, but the anecdotal experience is far too widespread to ignore it. The most popular hypothesis regarding barometric pressure and back pain is that when the barometric pressure drops prior to a storm or when there is a drastic change in temperature, there is less gravity to prevent further swelling in joints. When your joints are already inflamed from an existing condition, previous surgery or injury, the swelling is compounded and results in increased pain.
  3. Lack of physical activity: Colder weather and shorter days may deter even those with the best intentions from getting enough physical activity on a regular basis. It may seem counterproductive, but outdoor activity and exercise actually help joint and back pain. Your muscles need continued exercise in order to fulfill their vital role of supporting the spine. Without it, you become more susceptible to injury.
  4. Abnormal physical activity: In the winter, you may find yourself doing back-intensive activities that you otherwise don’t perform or participate in during other times of the year such as raking leaves, chopping wood or learning to ski on vacation. When your back isn’t conditioned or strong enough to handle these activities, your risk of experiencing back pain increases.
  5. Seasonal Depression: Whether you experience the winter blues or suffer from seasonal affective disorder, winter weather and less sunlight can take their toll both mentally and physically. Seasonal depression can cause back pain, fatigue, increased perception of pain and decreased interest in daily physical activity.

Don’t let back pain force you into hibernation this winter. To help you stay active during the cooler months of the year, dress in layers to help keep your muscles warm especially when you’re outside. Activities you can do any time of year that are great for back health include swimming at an indoor heated pool, indoor aerobic exercise and walking. Just make sure you wear proper footwear to reduce your risk of slips and falls that can result in a herniated disc or fractured vertebrae.

Contact Paris Orthopedics

If your joint or back pain becomes more than you can manage on your own, call (903) 737-0000 to schedule an appointment with Paris Orthopedic. Our team of experts offers comprehensive orthopedic and musculoskeletal services for patients throughout Northeast Texas and Southeast Oklahoma.