Health Tips

Cold Weather Making Your Back Hurt?

Many of our members have had spikes in their pain right after the rain and cold weather started. Either it was slightly more aggravating or straight up more excruciating.

They all told me that they experience it whenever the cold weather comes around. So can the weather actually be causing this increase in pain? Or is it just another case of causation vs. correlation?

Not the Cause

Right off the bat, I can assure you that the cold is not the initial cause of your pain. It is just something that may accent or increase it. Many people have back pain even in warm climates as well.

All of our members that experienced this increase already had the pain, to begin with. We know the cause of our pain. In most cases, it is muscle tightness, herniated/bulging discs, osteoarthritis, etc.

Theory #1: Barometric Pressure

One cause for increased pain may be a change in barometric, also called atmospheric, pressure. This is the pressure exerted by the weight of air in the atmosphere of Earth.

Think of being underwater, except the water is air in this case. The deeper (or lower in elevation) you are, the more pressure is acting on your body. Well, when there are changes in pressure (sometimes you may hear them say on the news, “An area of low pressure is moving in from the east”), that affects how much pressure is acting on your body at any given moment.

Also, you have something called internal pressure. Think of that as the air inside a balloon, except in this case the balloon is the skin of your body. That air inside is pushing to expand the balloon, while the pressure on the outside is seeking to shrink it.

When both of these pressures are the same, we have what we call an equilibrium. If the atmospheric pressure drops (this is generally accompanied by rain, clouds, and cold weather), certain parts of your body, such as your joints, may swell up or expand because your internal pressure is slightly higher than the atmospheric pressure.

Don’t worry. You don’t become fat and bloated all of a sudden. It is just a tiny change.

Now, how does this relate to your back? Well, when your spinal muscles are very tight and pulling the vertebrae together, the small openings in between your vertebrae constrict and start to pinch the nerve. This leads to your back pain.

Now, imagine already having narrow openings and your joints in between the vertebrae swelling up… What would happen? That’s right: An even smaller opening for the nerve, causing pinching and more pain.

Theory #2: Stress

Your increase in pain can also be caused by stress from the holidays. All of that shopping and planning can have a major affect on your body. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death, among which are heart disease, cancer, and suicide.

As stress builds up, we start to experience the “fight or flight” response to the demands and pressure of our circumstances. There are many things that happen when we feel this response. They include chills & sweating, heart beating faster and harder, blood pressure increasing, and quick, deep breathing, among others.

One other reaction that affects our pain directly is that our muscles become more tense and trembling can occur. And what do tense and tight muscles do? They pull vertebrae together, adding pressure on our discs as well as narrowing the openings where our nerves pass through.

Notice That I Called Them “Theories”

Scientists still don’t have a clear and concise reason for why many people experience this increase in pain when the weather gets colder. These theories are the most prominent explanations that have been offered. In my opinion, it is most likely a combination of both.

Swelling can add more pressure on nerves if the spine is compressed (This is the same thing that happens when we have inflammation in our spine).
On top of that, the added stresses of planning for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s have a great impact on our whole body, including tensing up our muscles. This, in turn, also leads to an increase in pain.

So Is There Any Hope?

Is there any hope for someone that keeps getting this increased pain every year? Yes. And it is actually quite simple. Just continue to exercise and strengthen your spinal muscles. What will that accomplish? Well, two things:

1) When your spinal muscles are strong and holding you up without 
compressing your spine, any swelling due to pressure changes should not put added pressure on your nerves. Think of all the people that go through the cold weather without any pain. Pressure acts on them just the same way as it acts on someone with pain.

2) When your spinal muscles are strong and capable of relaxing, any muscle tension or tightness caused by stress will quickly go away. Many of our members start to notice that even if they do tighten up from a long day at work, or some labor-intensive task, they are able to calm down and relax because our exercises have trained their muscles to do so.