-There’s not much conclusive scientific evidence establishing a clear connection between back pain and cold weather. Of course, this doesn’t mean the pain spikes some people experience when temperatures drop isn’t a very real distraction. One possible explanation is that nerve endings become more sensitive when exposed to cold. A change in atmospheric pressure may also contribute to the tissue inflammation that sometimes makes back pain worse. Regardless of what causes cold weather-related back pain, there are some things you can do to alleviate it.
Apply Direct Heat
Increase circulation to the painful area by applying heat directly to where it hurts. You can do this with a hot pack, a heating pad, or a warm towel, but remember not to apply heat directly to your bare skin. Heat should be applied for 15-20 minutes at a time. Direct heat applications provide relief by:
- Dilating blood vessels in muscles that support the spine
- Decreasing pain signals sent to the brain by stimulating sensory receptors in the skin
- Increasing the elasticity of soft tissues, which reduces the muscle tension that sometimes contributes to back pain
Use Heat Wraps
Extend the relief heat brings by using a heat wrap. Available online and in many grocery stores, heat wraps can be worn around the waist if you have lower back pain or draped over your shoulders if you have upper back or neck pain. Usually meant to be worn for up to 8 hours at a time, wraps can prolong the benefits associated with heat.
Try Water Therapy
Water also has natural therapeutic benefits. Water therapy can involve taking a long bath in warm water or sitting for a while in a hot bathtub or whirlpool tub. If you don’t have back pain that’s aggravated by certain swimming motions, swimming in a heated pool can produce similar results. Even walking around in a heated therapy pool can be beneficial. Water therapy may be especially helpful if you have back pain related to:
- Muscle irritation or damage (strains, tears)
- Reduced circulation from underlying health issues like diabetes
Some people get into a relaxed mode as colder weather arrives. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying some time curled up on the couch watching a good movie on a cold day, prolonged periods of inactivity can make back pain worse. Inactivity also weakens the main muscle groups that support the spine, which means your backbone is absorbing more of the stress from your daily movements. Even if it’s not possible to get outside as much during colder months, you can still stay active by:
- Doing simple stretching exercises at home
- Using indoor treadmills or elliptical machines
- Opting for water-based exercises in indoor pools
- Joining a gym*
*Some gyms have trainers on staff who can offer tips on how to safely exercise if you have existing back issues unrelated to weather changes.
Another way to combat back pain that spikes during cooler times of the year is to be mindful of your eating habits. While it may be tempting to overindulge in tasty goodies during the winter holidays, doing so could be part of what’s making your back pain more noticeable since certain foods contribute to inflammation. If your weather-related pain fluctuations become progressively worse, see what your doctor has to say, or see a Santa Monica spine surgeon.
If your back pain is chronic and severe, you may need minimally invasive back surgery. Santa Monica patients can turn to Dr. Hyun Bae and the expert surgeons at The Spine Institute. Call our office at 310-828-7757 today.