Relieving Back Pain in the Winter

number of back pain sufferers increase in winter
Odds of getting back pain are higher in Winter.

Tips on How To Relieve Winter Back Pain

When winter hits, and the degrees fall, the chances of developing acute back pain rise.

Acute back pain can last a couple of days or weeks, and the most common area affected is your lower back.  “Low back pain is the number two reason that Americans see their health care provider — second only to colds and flu.”

The most common type of acute back pain is a lumbar strain. These lower back muscles contain numerous attachments to your spine and pelvis, and a pain related injury can be tough to cope with.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine states that,

“Acute low back pain is most often caused by a sudden injury to the muscles and ligaments supporting the back. The pain may be caused by muscle spasms or a strain or tear in the muscles and ligaments.” 

Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoarthritis and Psoriatic Arthritis are all subject to being in more pain during the winter months. Cold Allodynia is the condition where people can forecast the onset of cold weather based on the amount of pain they are in. The change in weather causes more sensitive nerve endings to shrink, and surrounding muscles to tense up.

If you suffer from winter stressed back pain, or are looking or some prevention tips, below we’ve pulled together the top research and treatment so you can prepare yourself.

What causes back pain in the winter?

Winter back pain can be inflamed by just performing your regular chores and activities; therefore, it’s important to keep an eye on yourself.

Do you live in an area where you have to shovel snow? If so, you’re aware of how the act can cause back, chest, and shoulder pain. Remember, snow gets heavy when it’s wet. Dr. Sandra Fryhofer, a board-certified internal medicine doctor, based in Atlanta, Ga., and a past president of the American College of Physicians told ABC News that “Shoveling puts strain on your heart…If you have heart problems, get someone else to do it for you.” So it’s more than just back pain to keep an eye out for.  “11,500 people are treated for snow-shoveling injuries each year, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine.”

Exercise-without-caution can-cause-low-backpainErgonomic_Aluminum_Snow_Shovel

If you have no choice but to shovel, wear a hat, gloves, and waterproof shoes. Lift with your legs, not your back. “It’s best to push snow rather than lift it—and try to get an ergonomically designed shovel,” said Fryhofer. An ergonomic shovel (pictured below) is curved and lightweight, and this helps to keep your back straight. “There’s a lot of weight at the end of the shovel, which is not close to your body…Pick up smaller [portions] of the snow, which will give you less weight per shovel.” It is also recommended to not get in a cycle shoveling in the same direction. Switch directions often, to keep different muscles and ligaments moving.

Advice and Tips from professional to prevent winter back pain:

  • When shoveling, remember it’s not a race, if it’s too cold and you’re rushing, take a break. Stretch. The key is to keep a steady pace, as to not exhaust yourself. When that happens, your body is more prone to not maintaining proper support.
  • Stay bundled up in warm clothing while outside, wear a few layers. Dress in the right gear: the warmest gear that allows for an ease of motion. Comfortable and durable outerwear will provide necessary support while working. (Women, try to wear clothes that shape to your body.) Wear the right footwear, a shoe with a rubber soul needs to be in optimal condition, because it can provide traction and support on snowy, icy areas. (This is key to not slipping, which can create and exacerbate pain conditions easily.)
  • The cold weather stiffens your muscles, so warming up and stretching as well as light lifting will keep you limber, improving your performance and reducing the likelihood of any strain. Big TV watcher? Force yourself to take a stretch break during commercials, or set time aside to stretch in the mornings and evenings. Keep your lower back fit with a home exercise routine.
  • Your muscles won’t contract which will keep your nerve endings warm.) Maintain a healthy home exercise program to strengthen your back.
  • Make stretching a routine in training. Doctors are unified in advising that it’s important to stay active. Keeping limber can reduce pressure on muscle tendons and ligaments. This keeps your joints from getting stiff and starting pain. (Swim in a heated pool to minimize joint pain.)
  • As Dr. Sandra Fryhofer said, maintain proper form. You want to lift with your legs and not your back, knees bent while lifting, and don’t bend or twist.
  • If an ergonomic shovel is not possible, try a plastic one rather than a metal one. The idea being to use lighter tools. Make use of a wheelbarrow.
  • Make sure to not be assumptive in the thought that freshly fallen snow can have a layer of ice hidden beneath the surface.
  • Overall, restrict your outdoor activities during this frigid time.
  • Maintain healthy supplements: Omega 3 fatty acids and Vitamin C help retain healthy joints.
  • Avoid binge eating during the holiday season. This extra weight stresses your body and can cause acute back pain.
  • Try a heating pad on sensitive areas.
  • Visit your Chiropractor, a massage therapist, an acupuncturist, or seek help from your doctor.

Treatment for Winter Back Pain

When acute back pain hits, here is what the professionals advise to do:

  • You’ll want to take a break from regular physical activity for the first few days so your symptoms can begin to decrease in swelling. After a few days off, slowly begin your usual activities, again. No heavy lifting or twisting for at least first six weeks. Just as it helps to keep your muscles and ligaments limber to prevent pain, it helps to treat it. This misbelief of resting will not benefit your acute pain area. “If you have no sign of a serious cause for your back pain (such as loss of bowel or bladder control, weakness, weight loss, or fever), then you should stay as active as possible.” Focus on easy, light aerobic workouts. Exercises like riding a bike (stationary), walking, and swimming are staples. These activities promote a healthy healing process while improving your blood flow while strengthening your core and your back. Stretching and strengthening exercises are important, however, starting these exercises too soon after an injury can make your pain worse.  Not to mention performing them without knowledge of any proper form. Seek out a physical therapist to teach you the proper stretches and exercises to perform, as well as preventative exercises.
  • Apply heat (like a heating pad) or ice to the painful area. The New York Times said to use 48 to 72 hours and then use heat.
  • Try over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • If you’re a side sleeper: sleep in a fetal position, with a pillow between your legs. Back sleepers: tuck a pillow or rolled up towel under your knees. This will help relieve pressure, especially when you’re looking to sleep in winter weather.
  • “If your pain lasts longer than one month, your primary health care provider may send you to see either an orthopedist (bone specialist) or neurologist (nerve specialist).” They go on to say that if a month passes, with no improvement in your pain from trying all these methods, your doctor may recommend an epidural injection

Also for additional tips on alleviating back pain, take a look at our guide to choosing the right mattress for back pain.