Can Cold Weather Affect Back Pain?

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As the fall season ushers in relief from high summertime temperatures, there are plenty of Americans suffering from back pain who'll look back longingly on the dog days of summer. That's because many back pain sufferers say they experience increased aches and pains as outdoor temperatures drop. Some even claim they can tell when a cold snap is coming just by increased swelling and joint pain. But is cold weather really the culprit or is there something a bit more to this increase in chronic back pain?

Little Scientific Evidence, But Plenty of Anecdotes

The correlation between cold weather and increased chronic pain is one that has seen more than its fair share of scientific study. However, there's still no clear-cut answer as to whether cold weather actually has an impact on chronic pain.

Some scientific studies have explored the possible effects of lowered barometric pressure on tissues and joints, which could explain why some back pain sufferers experience swelling in cold temperatures. Other studies suggest that constricted blood vessels, tightened muscles and ligaments and other bodily changes caused by cold weather also increase nerve sensitivity, leading to amplified aches and pains. However, there's no concrete proof that validates either of these theories.

Despite the lack of scientific evidence, there are still countless anecdotes of chronic back pain sufferers experiencing intensified symptoms as the weather turns cold and damp. Hopefully, further scientific study may unlock the key to discovering the connection between chronic pain and cold weather.

Other Factors to Consider

There are also other factors to consider that could lead to increased back pain during the fall and winter months:

  • The conditions that lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), including fewer hours of sunlight and holiday-related stresses, can also contribute to chronic back pain.
  • Shorter, colder days often discourage people from staying active, leading to reduced movement and increased back pain.
  • Other injuries that occur during cold weather could also aggravate and amplify existing chronic pains.

How to Cope

Many chronic back pain sufferers have found heat therapy to be effective at alleviating aches and pains caused by cold weather. In many cases, applying a warm towel to the affected area can help decrease stiffness and increase blood circulation, thereby providing temporary relief.

Others have also found water therapy to be helpful in relieving weather-related chronic back pain. Taking a few laps around a heated indoor swimming pool several times a week, for instance, can provide relief as well as increase strength and promote improved overall health. Soaking in an outdoor Jacuzzi or even a hot bath can also provide needed relief.

For more information, talk to a professional like Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates.