That time of year is upon us again; the long lazy days of summer have been replaced by the cold, dark nights of winter. Unfortunately, the onset of cold weather can also mean an increase in back pain, especially for those with underlying spinal problems. Even if you don’t suffer from a recurrent back complaint, negotiating icy paths, shoveling snow and spending time out and about in freezing temperatures can mean the risk of back injury.
How is cold weather related to back pain?
- Increased muscle tension and nerve sensitivity
- Exacerbation of osteoarthritis
- Damage caused by common winter activities
- Injuries caused by falling
In cold weather, muscles tense and tighten around the nerves, which may result in back pain. In addition, it is not uncommon for certain nerves to be more susceptible to pain and pressure changes following an injury, surgery, or significant physical event.
Although the exact link between cold weather and osteoarthritis is unknown, many sufferers report exacerbation in joint pain and stiffness that coincide with a drop in temperature.
Typical winter tasks such as shoveling snow can cause significant stress on the spine, particularly if carried out incorrectly. Such activities have been shown to increase the incidence of everything from muscle fatigue to vertebral disc damage and spinal fractures.
The presence of surface ice obviously increases your risk of falling, but even if you don’t fall you may still subconsciously tense your muscles in an attempt to avoid slipping, which can result in back strain and pain.
Tips and tricks for preventing back pain
- Warm up before physical activity
- Shovel snow properly
- Keep warm at all times
- Reduce your risk of falling
In cold weather your body increases blood flow to your vital organs in order to keep them warm. This means some muscles receive less oxygen, making them feel stiffer and lowering their ability to absorb impact. To combat this, you should increase blood circulation by warming up for five to ten minutes prior to exercise. A good warm-up should include a variety of stretches for the back, shoulders, arms and legs. Remember to breathe deeply when stretching.
When shoveling snow, maintaining a good technique will relieve pressure on the spine. Be sure to bend your knees and keep your back straight, and push the snow to one side rather than straining to throw it. Avoid twisting and turning as much as possible.
Keeping warm will help avoid stiff joints and aching muscles. There are many ways in which you can keep warm, including: using a hot water bottle or electric blanket when inside; moving around regularly and not sitting down for long periods of time (inside or outside); having hot meals and warm drinks throughout the day; and wrapping up in lots of thin layers to trap body heat, whether your are inside our outside in the cold weather.
Reduce your risk of a fall by wearing appropriate footwear, for example, boots with rubber soles or a pair of removable ice grippers, to increase traction. When walking outdoors take smaller, slower steps and be sure to distribute rock salt over your walkways. If you think you may have sustained a back injury or strain, it is vital that you see a specialist as soon as possible.
Although winter can be a painful season, it is important to understand that you do not have to spend it suffering in silence. At Atlantic Spine Center we can provide expert advice on winter back-related concerns or injuries and determine the right treatment for you, which may include minimally invasive procedures.
Remember that a problem caught early is always easier to resolve. Happy Holidays!