Does Cold Weather Affect Back Pain?

It is a common belief that cold weather exacerbates symptoms of pain and discomfort such as arthritis. For many people living with back pain, they swear the cold weather makes their stiff joints and sore backs feel worse than they do in warmer weather. Hearing about how poorly people experience their symptoms in cold weather is so common that the claim is widely accepted as factual. In fact, thousands of retirees relocate to more tropical climates with the intention of avoiding the cold weather’s effects.

Why is pain worse in cold weather?

Doctors and scientists have never found any solid proof that cold weather exacerbates pain, despite conducting hundreds of studies. They have yet to find any correlation between seasonal changes and chronic pain. A few studies point to the drop in barometric pressure (the force exerted by the weight of the atmosphere) that occurs when temperatures significantly drop. This drop, when combined with the drop in temperature, may cause the tissues surrounding joints to swell and put extra pressure on the nerves responsible for pain signals.

Alternatively, bodily changes sparked by cold weather, such as when your blood vessels constrict to minimize heat loss and keep the proper core temperature, have side effects that mimic or amplify pain signals. This theory holds more weight than the first, and may be a sign of your nervous system acting up in cold weather. Further studies find absolutely no relationship and claim this belief is simply a myth, or old wives’ tale.

Despite there being no hard evidence, there is no shortage of patients confessing to their physicians that their symptoms are worsened in the winter months. In particular are those suffering from lower back and neck pain, and patients living with fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. If you suffer from any of these conditions, we recommend a few activities to help manage your symptoms during this difficult time of year.

Coping during the winter

To cope with your symptoms in uncomfortably cold temperatures, particularly if you suffer from chronic back pain or osteoarthritis, try taking the following actions:

Heat Therapy: add your own heat throughout the day to decrease stiffness by applying hot packs, warm towels, or heating pads to the painful area for a minimum of 20 minutes at a time.
Water Therapy: soothing pain relief may come to you by swimming indoors or soaking in a hot bath or a hot tub.
Massages: a proper massage can help increase circulation and blood flow to your stiff joints. It can alleviate cramps in your muscles.
Exercise: staying active during the winter months is important to maintain the flow of oxygen to your joints and muscles.
Fish Oil: Omega-3 fatty acids are found to benefit inflammation by reducing it. Supplements that include 2,000-3,000 milligrams are advised.
OTC Pain Relief: If OTC pain relief medications work for your back pain, it’s ok to use them to relieve your pain on particularly bad days.

When all else fails, your certified spine specialists at the Spine Institute of Marc A. Cohen have decades of professional experience working with chronic back pain. They can help you manage your symptoms and get back on your feet.