Whether you have chronic back pain or pain that comes and goes, you may notice that the pain is worse in cold weather. While an exact causal link between increased pain and cold weather has not been found by the scientific community, the fact of this connection is certain. Cold weather back pain is common among people with arthritis, but it can also occur due to increased muscle tension.
When we open our doors to a frigid winter day, we tend to distort our posture and tense up our muscles to cope with the cold. This is usually done unconsciously for a couple of reasons. First, when your muscles contract, they burn energy which is released as heat. Tensing up, then, is a natural bodily response to cold. Shivering occurs when muscles rapidly contract and relax to release energy (heat) fast.
You may also notice that, in the cold, you tend to drop your head and raise your shoulders, which causes your hips to tuck under and your lower back to flatten out. You’re trying to share your shoulders’ body heat with your neck and ears. This is a natural reaction, but a reaction that distorts posture throughout your back and pelvis.
Sore necks, shoulders and lower backs in the winter indicate muscular tension. If you have widespread muscle soreness when it’s cold out, this is likely a sign that your apparel is not suited to your climate. It is important to have a winter hat that covers your ears and a scarf to cover your neck. These, combined with self-awareness, will help to prevent postural distortion. Your muscles will still automatically tense up to stay warm if the rest of your outfit isn’t warm enough. If you can’t find a heavy-duty coat within your budget, rely on layering. A good pair of long underwear will help keep both your lower and upper body protected from the cold. Being conscious of your posture and muscle tenseness can help you relieve cold weather back pain.
If you tend to have joint pain and stiffness that worsens with inactivity and cold weather, you may have osteoarthritis. This form of arthritis affects various parts of the body, including the spine. It occurs when the cartilage that cushions spinal joints wears down, causing friction, inflammation and sometimes the formation of bone spurs that can impinge nerves.
Cold weather doesn’t cause osteoarthritis; it can, however, exacerbate it. Along with cartilage breakdown, osteoarthritis entails inflammation of the synovium, which lines the joint and excretes a lubricant called synovial fluid. As cartilage hardens and wears, the synovium can become inflamed. The prevailing theory on the link between cold weather and increased osteoarthritic pain is that the synovium is sensitive to barometric pressure. When barometric pressure drops, as when foul weather is coming in, the synovium becomes inflamed. This worsens the stiffness and pain surrounding arthritic joints. This theory has its issues; it has led to inconsistent results in research and barometric pressure is not necessarily low when it is cold, but does indicate precipitation and storms. More research into this is needed before an exact link between joint pain and cold weather is understood.
That said, there are still ways to alleviate the extra burden the cold places on your joints. One of the aggressors of arthritic pain, as said above, is inactivity, and one of the best ways to exercise with osteoarthritis is in the water. A warm pool can do wonders for your joints year-round, and especially when it’s cold outside. It is also important to be aware of the above muscular cause of winter back pain, as tight muscles in conjunction with stiff, sore joints will exacerbate your pain.
Take care of your muscles and joints during the cold season. Appropriate apparel, self-awareness and indoor exercise could be enough to ease your back pain this winter.