Posted by Dr. Scott Wilson | 15-Dec-2021
As winter rolls in, it changes the way we live our daily lives. It also affects the way our bodies function. During winter, our choice of clothing, our activity level, and the types of activities we engage in all change. While our bodies are incredibly adaptable, the extreme cold and the increase in activities like snow shoveling, can mean lead to an increase in back pain.
To help prevent back pain or to find relief if it does occur, here’s a quick overview on what causes back pain in the winter and what you can do to minimize its impact.
Causes of Back Pain in the Winter
If you’re someone who experiences back pain year-round, you know that it can often become worse during the frigid months. Or, if you typically get back pain only in the winter, you might be wondering why. There some key reasons we may experience more back pain during the winter months:
- Muscles Contracting – The main cause of back pain in winter is the way cold weather impacts the muscles, tendons, and ligaments throughout our body, and especially in our spines. When our body gets cold, the blood flow to our muscles is reduced. This decreased circulation can tighten the surrounding tissue, putting added strain on the spine and pulling spinal nerves. Also, the increased amount of shivering we do can cause our muscles to feel cramped or tight, which increases stiffness and pain.
- A Lack of Exercise – For many people, the list of activities we enjoy doing gets a little shorter in the wintertime. Jogging, cycling and other outdoor sports or even basic activities aren’t as practical with the snow and ice of winter. Not surprisingly, most of us tend to spend more time indoors and less time being active, which makes our muscles weaker. Without proper exercise, our bodies lose strength, stability, and flexibility. As our bodies begin to stiffen or tighten, we become more susceptible to pain and injury when performing certain tasks, such as shoveling, playing outside with the kids, or even scraping off the car.
- Compromising Body Positioning – This may seem like a strange point, but think about how you sleep, walk, or even sit on the couch during the winter. We tend to contort our bodies into weird positions to feel warmer (whether physically or psychologically). When walking outdoors, we’re often hunched over to protect ourselves from the elements. When sleeping, we’re more likely to sleep in the fetal position as we try to retain as much body heat as possible during the night. Over a few months, these positions can put a real strain on our bodies which can result in back pain.
- Low Barometric Pressure – You may have heard how some people with arthritis say they can predict the weather based on the amount of pain they’re experiencing. Although there is no actual evidence of a correlation between barometric pressure and back pain, many professionals believe there is some type of connection. The idea is that a sudden drop in barometric pressure leads to increased inflammation, which puts additional stress on the joints and other parts of the back, which leads to increased pain.
- Depression – Unfortunately for a lot of Canadians, winter brings about seasonal depression. Commonly referred to as the “winter blues,” seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a real issue that affects 2 to 3 percent of the Canadian population. Besides taking a toll on your mental health, SAD can also have a negative impact on your physical health. People experiencing SAD typically exercise less, have reduced energy levels and increased fatigue. This can lead to the weakening of back muscles and can increase the chances of an injury.
How to Help Prevent Back Pain in Winter
We can’t change the weather, but we can do a few things to help prevent back pain from happening. Here are a few ways you can help reduce back pain:
- Stay Warm – To avoid your muscles from excessively contracting, keep your home, car, and workspace at a comfortable temperature. An advisable temperature is 21 °C during the colder months. You should try to keep your body warm and at the same temperature, as much as possible.
- Dress Accordingly – Make sure you have a very warm jacket and a good pair of boots with a grp. Always keep extra pairs of gloves, toques, and scarfs in your home and at your work. Also, make sure you’re bundled up, even if you’re just going outside for a minute.
- Eat Right – It’s common to eat more comfort foods during the winter months, but many of these foods can be high in fats and sugars. Get more anti-inflammatory foods into your diet, such as fish, vegetables, fruits, and beans. Also, try to avoid excessive consumption of processed foods and alcohol.
- Stay Active – Get out for a walk or hike as often as you can. Get into yoga or other indoor exercises or find other fun ways to keep your body moving all winter.
- Avoid Slips and Falls – When walking outside, be mindful of the conditions. If it’s icy, go slow and take extra caution by walking on the snow, instead of the ice, when possible. Or, if possible, don’t go out and do some indoor exercise instead that day. Be sure to use sand on your walkways, sidewalks, and driveway.
- Know When to Rest – If you’ve recently hurt your back or have been working really hard at your job, remember to rest and relax to allow your body time to heal. Rest is an important part of maintaining your health but it’s crucial if you have had a back injury. Of course, too much lying around can worsen back pain. Unless otherwise instructed by your doctor, try to get up and walk around every couple of hours.
Tips for Getting Relief From Back Pain
If you are currently experiencing back pain, here are some options that can help provide some relief:
- Ice and Heat – Although there are different ways to utilize hot and cold for pain relief, both can be highly advantageous for relieving back pain. Ice packs are great for reducing pain and inflammation right after back pain begins. Wrap an ice pack in a tea towel. Put it on the sore area for around 20 minutes, several times a day. After a few days of that, switch to a heating pad. This can help your muscles relax and increase blood flow. Warm baths can also work well to ease pain and help you unwind.
- Watch How You Sleep – Sleeping can be challenging when you’re experiencing back pain but getting a good night’s sleep can aid in the healing process. Try lying on your side with a pillow placed between your knees. This can help line up your spine in a neutral position and relieve strain on your back.
- OTC Medication – There are various over-the-counter medications that can help with back pain. When in doubt, consult your doctor or Pharmacist but don’t expect these medications to take all the pain away. Prescription back pain relievers are also available. They can be more effective, but should only be used in extreme cases.
- Physiotherapy or Exercises – Depending on the back pain you’re feeling and its impact on your quality of life, you may want meet with a Physiotherapist. A Physiotherapist can provide treatment and exercises that can help relieve pain and increase strength, stability and flexibility.
- Don’t Rest for Too Long – Even an aching back needs to move around. An extreme lack of movement can cause other complications. So, unless you’ve been instructed otherwise by a healthcare professional, be sure to maintain a degree of activity. Swimming, walking or yoga, in moderation, may be beneficial.
If you’re experiencing any form of back pain and need help getting back to living life on your terms, contact us today and let us show you why at Physiomed, Healthier Starts Here.