Why Winter is Hard on Your Back

Welcome to February in Minnesota! We started this month out with beautiful weather on Super Bowl Sunday with a high temperature of 45 degrees. The sun was out, the snow was melting…and then it dropped to a high of 24 degrees two days later and many of us were trying to chip off the ice that had formed and became a mini skating rink on our sidewalks.

Do you feel like your back pain is worse in the winter? Many people do. Think of what cold does to nature like plants and trees. Now let’s think about you. When your body is cold, there is less blood flow to muscles and support structures of your spine. Why? In the cold, your body will try to divert blood towards things that are vital to survival like our brain, heart, and lungs. As a result, our muscles become tight and stiff. We hunch our shoulders forward and contract our arms in towards our center. Contracting, stiffness and tightness means less motion. Less motion causes compression and increased pain due to the extra strain on the nerves that exit the spine and the muscles that support it.

Sometimes it is dangerous to exercise in the cold. People who get most of their exercise from outdoor activities such as biking and walking will often find themselves less active in the winter. This can lead to weaker muscles that are more easily injured. Activities like shoveling can then injure these weakened muscles.

Also, in joints that have arthritis or an inflammatory process already, a decrease in barometric pressure can increase or cause pain. A 2019 study found that weather can increase pain. The research participants were people with arthritis, fibromyalgia, neuropathy and migraine headache conditions. This study summary can be found here: Cloudy with a Chance of Pain. Another study was titled “Back and neck pain due to working in a cold environment: a cross-sectional study of male construction workers.”  This can be found in the International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health October 2013.

Winter can bring with it another danger for your back. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that increases throughout the winter months. Back pain is often present in people who suffer from SAD. This sadness, decrease in motivation and interest in activities can cause us to move less, not take in the nutrients we need and increase pain and pain perception.

While it is more common for winter to be harder on your back, it does not have to be normal!

Chiropractic care can help restore the movement to the joints, take the stiffness out of the muscles and therefore reduce the pain associated with cold weather. The chiropractors at our clinic are determined to help you enjoy the cold months and the activities associated with winter in beautiful Minnesota. Through chiropractic adjustments, specific postural recommendations and care tailored towards you as an individual, we look forward to a healthy winter with you.

By Heather Karls, D.C.