We’ve all heard people say that their arthritis, back pain, or migraines seem to get worse when the weather gets cold. Even the medical literature documents many anecdotal accounts of “weather induced pain”. But is the weather actually causing pain to increase, or do people just like to complain about cold weather in general?
There actually may be some truth to these complaints. In a study published in October 2013, Swedish researchers studied 135,000 construction workers from across the country to test any correlation between cold working conditions and pain. The study adjusted for age, BMI (body mass index) of the workers, and nicotine use. In the end, the trends in the study did show an increased risk of developing back and neck pain for those workers in the colder climates.
Some have suggested that this correlation between cold weather and pain may be from joints that become irritated by changes in barometric pressure. Others suggest that the pain may result from muscle tightening and cramping in the cold.
So what does this mean for you during this cold season? If your back and neck pain seem to increase as the weather turns colder here are some strategies to keep your pain in check until spring returns:
Tips for beating cold weather related pain
Use heated compresses – Some heated compresses are microwavable and reusable and some are similar to hand and toe warmers and are one-time use only. Just be sure to follow all packaging instructions to avoid overuse or injury from using too much heat in one spot.
Stretch your tense muscles – If the source of your cold weather pain is from contracted muscles, spend some time each morning and evening gently stretching those muscles. Tight muscles pull on joints and constrict nerves, so keeping them loose can reduce pain. If your muscles are particularly tight, stretching while in a warm shower or bath can make stretching more comfortable.
Exercise – This may be the opposite of what you want to do when it is cold outside, but exercise warms your body, loosens and strengthens muscles and joints, and gives you a mental boost too.Do you find that cold weather affects your pain symptoms? Have you found any solutions that help?
If you find that your pain increases beyond what you can manage on your own, Dr. Rubin would be happy to evaluate your situation and recommend other options for you.