Living in a cold-weather area, we can expect any number of unexpected complaints. Sciatica is one of them. If you live with the symptoms of sciatica, you may know very well that your overall sense of wellness degrades when the temperature drops. But is this just an old wives’ tale, or is there something to the theory that cold weather affects the spine? Let’s take a look.
Sciatica is a medical term that describes nerve compression, usually in the lumbar spine, or low back. There are five sets of nerve roots in this spinal segment, and sciatica may affect one of them or all of them. The nerves of the lumbar spine run down through the buttocks and hips to the legs. When affected by compression, these nerves may signal pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness anywhere along their path.
The Science of Sciatica and Cold Weather
Scientific studies have confirmed that numerous types of pain worsen in cold weather, including sciatica. In particular, two large studies conducted in Europe discovered that participants self-reported higher instances of neck and low back pain during times of year when temperatures dipped. There are a few reasons this could happen.
- In cold temperatures, the muscles naturally stiffen. This could lead to increased tightness around the spine.
- Barometric pressure, or air pressure, decreases when the temperature changes significantly. Studies indicate that this external pressure can affect muscles and joints.
- Physical demands. Cold weather conditions like snow present different physical demands. Having to shovel snow or even walk on an icy surface could lead to a fall or twist that injures the back.
Cold Weather Strategies for Sciatica
Keep the Body Warm
Body temperature can be supported by:
- Layering clothing when going outdoors.
- Protecting the low back by tucking in shirts or sitting with a warm compress for a few minutes at a time. This can be especially beneficial when driving.
- Keep interior temperatures consistently warm.
- Sleep with an electric blanket or a layer of blankets to keep muscles from tightening when you sleep.
Keep the Body Limber
Staying active through the winter months promotes a healthy back for those times when you may have to unexpectedly shovel snow or manage your way across hazardous ice.
The good news about sciatica is that this symptom usually resolves with rest and good spine care. However, if a back injury occurs and causes lingering pain, a consultation should be scheduled in our NYC spinal care center. For an appointment with our experienced staff, contact us at 212-606-1004.