Why Our Backs Ache In The Cold & What We Can Do About It
As we get closer to the holidays in America, the temperature naturally turns colder and the days seem to grow shorter. While this tends to be par for the course, you might know someone who has lamented that as the weather gets colder, they have pain in their back or their knees that intensifies or “acts up.” This is a recurring condition that hits many people throughout the country as we enter the winter months. Fortunately, there is now an increased understanding of what is happening to cause this uptick in pain, and more people are able to take measures to mitigate and in some cases, prevent it altogether.
Why We Ache in the Cold
Amongst the medical community, there is actually no definitive study or established explanation as to why this phenomenon occurs. However, there are a few prominent theories. One of the most common is a process called vasoconstriction, which is the idea that in colder weather the body will naturally draw more blood to the center of the body in an attempt to conserve heat by supporting “mission critical” organs like the lungs and heart. As a result of this reduced flow, the blood vessels in areas like the arms, legs, and back will constrict. And when the muscles and tendons in these areas get less blood, they can stiffen which will lead to aches and pains. This can be particularly felt in the back when support for the spine stiffens up due to this vasoconstriction.
Another observation that has been made is that these issues can be highly environmental. If the cold weather brings snow, this can create situations and risks that are not an issue during the rest of the year. If conditions become icy then moving around outside opens up the risk of slips and falls which will quickly contribute to back pain. On the other hand, if it becomes too cold or dangerous to get out and do routine exercise, this drop in activity can cause your body to weaken and become more prone to injury during the winter months. Even normal winter upkeep activities like shoveling the walk or driveway can place undue stress on the body which can open up opportunities for physical injury not encountered during any other part of the year.
One somewhat contested theory is the effect of barometric pressure on the body, particularly during times of inclement weather. You may have heard someone claim they can tell when a storm is coming through pressure in their joints, or a “feeling” in their bones. While there is currently no established scientific study that confirms a corollary between a drop in pressure and back pain, culture and civilization have produced a considerable amount of anecdotal evidence suggesting a connection. As close as most experts can figure, when the barometric pressure drops due to an oncoming storm or change in temperature, this means there is less gravity to hold down or reduce swelling in joints already aggravated by a previous condition or injury. And if swelling is allowed to occur, this produces increased inflammation and pain in the affected areas.
Countermeasures and Solutions
It is undeniable that due to changes in environment and routine, many people experience increased back pain during the cold season. However, if the problem is weather and climate itself, what can one hope to do? While it might sound dully obvious, one of the most important measures to take is keeping yourself warm. Preventing constriction of your muscles and blood vessels due to cold will go a long way in preventing pain from flaring up in your back. Though it makes getting dressed take longer you want to make sure you are wearing the appropriate amount of clothing layers, even if you think you can handle it or are just going to be out for a few moments. You may want to consider upping the number of blankets on your bed or possibly invest in an electric blanket to ensure you are staying sufficiently warm even while you are asleep. It is also important to make sure that you have specialized winter equipment if the environment demands it. Shoveling the walk in winter boots with sufficient tread may produce considerably different results than if you tried to do so in ordinary sneakers.
Another thing to consider is making sure you are staying active as possible. During “normal” conditions many people rely on exercise and daily physical activity to keep themselves well, both physically and mentally. While it is highly understandable wanting to scale back or canceling a workout due to cold weather, this disruption in activity and routine can lead to aches and depression. Staying active in your home or even looking into a gym or athletic club can make sure you are getting the exercise you need to continue functioning as usual.
If you have pain that seems to ebb and flow with the seasons, it can feel oppressively inevitable. However, you may rest assured that you are not alone in this. Taking stock of your environment and assuming some specific seasonal changes may go a long way in helping with this condition. It may also be advisable to contact and discuss options with a healthcare professional for further management. With some preparation, you may be able to enjoy your holiday season without the back pain that can come with