People who suffer from chronic back pain or arthritis often claim that the cold weather makes the condition “flare up.” Do cold climates really affect back pain? Let’s discuss some common myths about cold weather and back pain.
Myth #1: It has been proven that cold weather affects back pain.
Although people often complain that cold weather makes their back pain worse, there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence to link temperature changes to back pain. In fact, the findings of scientific studies have been conflicting on this topic. Some studies have found that there is a link between colder weather and joint pain, while others have found no link at all. However, we do know that temperature changes will not make your actual condition worse, nor can it actually cause you to develop a particular condition. While there may be some truth to the opinion that weather changes make pain worse, it can only affect the actual symptoms, like pain and swelling. If you find you have back pain when it gets colder, there is an underlying condition causing the pain, not the cold itself.
Myth #2: Scientists agree that the temperature itself is what makes pain worse.
Studies have suggested that the change in temperature may not cause back pain, but it may be related. Changes in temperature can cause changes in barometric pressure, and that change in pressure is a more likely cause of pain than the temperature itself.
Barometric pressure, also called atmospheric pressure, is the weight of the atmosphere around us. The atmosphere exerts force on everything it surrounds, and changes in temperature and altitude affect the amount of pressure from the atmosphere. Although the change is barely perceptible in most cases, colder, damper weather can cause a drop in atmospheric pressure. With decreased pressure, the tissues in our bodies can expand and may press against joints and the structures in the back. If you have a painful condition like arthritis, this pressure may make it worse. High altitudes also have decreased barometric pressure, which is why people often experience swelling while flying.
Myth #3: If I move somewhere warmer, my back pain will be better.
While it may be tempting to move to an area with a warm, dry climate, it won’t help your back pain in the long run. As we discussed above, the weather itself isn’t the underlying cause of your back pain; at most, it’s just aggravating your symptoms. Moving won’t fix or reverse damage from a chronic condition like arthritis. People with chronic back pain who vacation in areas with a warmer, drier climate may report reduced pain, but that relief in pain is often temporary. Studies suggest that our bodies eventually adjust to the climate we are in, so weather changes can still affect us even in a warm, dry climate. Also, people in these areas do report arthritis pain even though the climate is warm and dry. For these reasons, it’s unlikely that moving is worth it in the long run.
It’s very unlikely that the cold itself is making your back pain worse. Work on treating and managing the underlying cause of your back pain, and you will often find more pain relief than you would by simply getting out of the cold.