The weather has gotten colder, and for many people with joint problems, that means trouble. Lots of people report increased back pain in cold weather, as well as stiffness and sensitivity. However, the ordinary turning of the seasons doesn’t mean that you need to resort to medication or resign yourself to pain. Chiropractors believe in helping their patients fulfill their potential to be healthy, and this includes during the cool months of fall and winter. To start October off, we’re going to look at some of the reasons why back pain becomes more common at this time of year and what you and your chiropractor can do about it.
Tightness in the Soft Tissues
The most common reason for people to feel increased pain in cold weather is that their muscles, tendons, and ligaments are shortening. Not only is it more difficult to move when this happens, but it also means the joints your soft tissues connect to can be pulled out of alignment. Tightened back muscles will also have more difficulty gliding over protrusions such as spinal spurs or herniated discs.
Keeping warm is one obvious way of mitigating this problem, but even so, you don’t want to allow your muscles to stay tight. Maintaining regular exercise is important even at times of the year when we feel like hunkering down. Keeping ourselves limber is one of the best things we can do to boost our energy, in addition to reducing the risk of soft tissues fraying. Of course, we need to stay safe when the ground is slick or covered in leaves, but your chiropractor can be a resource for developing an aerobic and strength-training exercise routine that won’t subject you to impacts and the risk of slipping. Many chiropractic treatments are oriented around maintenance and prevention, not just reacting to an injury.
Lack of Sunlight
Chiropractic is a holistic approach to health, which means that we also have to consider how our mental state can contribute to pain. Depression causes pain, including in the back, and back pain feeds into depression in a vicious cycle. During the reduced daylight of the fall and winter, we are particularly vulnerable to Seasonal Affective Disorder, meaning that we may develop depression symptoms. Besides causing pain directly, this can also contribute to weight gain, which further stresses the musculoskeletal system. Chiropractic adjustments can help our bodies to better distribute weight and prevent blockages in the nervous system, which allows us to better regulate hormones.
Sunlight is also what triggers our bodies to produce Vitamin D, which we need to absorb calcium and build strong bones. Although bouts of fifteen minutes of exposure to sunlight three times per week should be enough for a lot of people to produce Vitamin D, people who are older or work indoors may have to make a conscious effort to get that much. (The exposure needs to be direct and darker-skinned people may need more.) Without getting it from sunlight, it may be necessary to consume Vitamin D in supplements or as part of our diets. Strength training also increases bone density if we’re getting sufficient nutrition.
Risk of Injury
Less sunlight and more obstructions on the ground also increase our risk of getting injured. We don’t have to crash all the way to the ground to damage a disc or pull a muscle; sudden jostling can be enough to cause a noticeable problem. Slip-and-fall injuries are also more likely at home during the fall and winter, when people walk in stockinged feet.
Raking leaves, and later on, shoveling snow, are also activities that most people don’t do regularly but try in colder weather. It’s important to stretch before doing these and plan so that we don't overexert ourselves. In the event of an injury, many chiropractors can provide soft tissue therapies in addition to joint adjustments. Common treatments such as therapeutic massages, electric muscle stimulation, and ultrasound improve blood flow, which reduces inflammation and allows healing nutrients to get where they’re needed.