Brrrr! The thermometer is dropping as we head towards the darkest part of the year. You may notice that you’re feeling something other than holiday joy this December. Many people find that they experience more back and neck pain during the cold winter months. It’s not all in your head. Cold weather causes changes in the body that can aggravate old injuries or make you more prone to pain and stiffness. Read on to find out more about the two most common winter back problems and what you can do to get feeling better.
The Problem: That Old Injury Is Acting Up Again
If you’ve experienced a back or neck injury in the past, you may find that it starts to hurt when the temperatures drop or when a storm is coming in. Your body’s natural reaction to cold weather might be causing your pain to get worse.
When we get cold, our bodies constrict the blood vessels in our extremities, and the body directs more blood towards the internal organs (vasoconstriction). This lack of blood to the muscles and supportive tissues surrounding your spine will cause them to stiffen and be less flexible. As muscles, ligaments, and tendons stiffen, it can put a strain on the supportive structures of your spine and irritate nerve roots, causing pain. You may feel the effects of this stiffening more keenly in an area that has been previously injured.
There is no hard scientific evidence connecting a drop in barometer to back pain, but many people notice that their arthritis or injuries hurt more right before a storm comes in, even if they are in a warm place. Some have suggested that barometric pressure changes may increase inflammation, but again, this hasn’t been proven.
If you have a metal implant, it may react differently to changing temperatures than the flesh around it does. This is especially true of implants that are only covered by skin. If you notice pain around your implant during cold weather, you should take extra steps to keep that area warm.
What You can Do
Warm Up: Staying warm is the best way to prevent your body from reacting to the cold. Dress in layers and keep your heater on a comfortable setting. Try using heat therapy on painful areas. If you have a metal implant, you may need to wear extra layers over that area.
Exercise: A sedentary lifestyle can aggravate some back pain during the winter. You might have been active all summer, but now your bike ride or morning run isn’t feasible. Find a winter workout routine that works for you and stick with it. Activities like yoga or low impact exercises like swimming can be great for a sore back. Remember that you might need to spend extra time stretching and warming up to prevent injury during the winter.
See a Professional: In addition to staying warm and active, you might need to see your chiropractor and massage therapist more often in the winter. Chiropractic adjustments and massage can stimulate blood flow, ease stiffness, and help your body to heal.
Prevent Injury: Winter weather can bring hazards like slipping on ice or straining your back while shoveling snow. Make sure to wear appropriate shoes and maintain good posture when walking or working in snowy weather. Never, ever twist your back while shoveling snow. Twisting the back during everyday activities is one of the most common reasons for back injuries.
The Problem: You Feel Tired, Down and Sore
The cold, dark days of winter can lower serotonin levels and bring on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is a type of depression that occurs because of seasonal changes. If you are experiencing aches and pains alongside symptoms of depression like low mood, loss of interest in activities, and appetite changes, SAD may be to blame. Physical body aches, including back pain, are common symptoms of depression. Some scientists think that this is because depression increases the body’s production of inflammation-causing proteins called Cytokines.
How to Feel Better
See a Doctor- If you have symptoms of depression during any season, discuss them with your doctor. Only a doctor can tell you if your symptoms are being caused by SAD or something else. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may recommend medication or therapy.
Get More Sunlight- If SAD causes your symptoms, getting more sunlight can help improve your mood and your pain. If you can’t get at least fifteen minutes of natural sunlight every day, consider purchasing a lightbox. Lightboxes can be used for something called light therapy. This involves spending at least thirty minutes every morning sitting under the lightbox. It is thought that this therapy can increase serotonin in some people with SAD. Ask your doctor if you need to take a vitamin D supplement. Low levels of sunlight can lead to vitamin D deficiency, which may cause depression.
Move Your Body- Exercise can help ease depression symptoms and lower stress. It can also help with physical aches and pains by strengthening muscles and increasing endorphins– pain fighting hormones. Try to get at least twenty minutes of moderate physical activity each day. Working out in a social setting might also help your depression symptoms and encourage you to stick with your workout routine.
Reduce Stress: Stress and anxiety can make muscles tight and worsen depression. Exercising, eating a healthy diet, and practicing good self-care can do a lot to relieve stress and anxiety. Self-care can mean many things, for some people, it’s just taking a few minutes out of every day to relax. If the holidays are causing you stress, consider simplifying your holiday traditions or delegating more.