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Does Cold Weather Affect Back Pain?

Have you heard people say, “the cold makes my joints hurt”? Or, “my knees hurt, rain must be coming”? Does weather affect our bodies that much? Let’s take a closer look, can cold weather affect back pain?

does cold weather affect back pain?

Causes of Back Pain

Before we determine if cold weather can exacerbate back pain we first must understand why an individual has back pain. The root cause of the pain can vary from individual to individual. Think about an individual with a spine abnormality, or a weight lifter, or an older female suffering from osteoporosis. Each of these individuals may experience back pain, but for different reasons. The individual with a spine abnormality may experience pain from an abnormal curvature of the spine. A weight lifter may experience a slipped disc, causing pain. An patient with osteoporosis may have an undetected fracture of a vertebrae. Or an individual may have developed osteoarthritis.

How Could Cold Weather Affect Back Pain?

Now that we understand some of the different mechanisms that cause back pain, let’s take a look at how the weather may affect the body to see if it may cause a change in pain. Different theories exist on why cold weather may affect joints and cause an increase in associated symptoms, like back pain.

One popular theory relates to the barometric pressure. Some believe changes in the pressure around us can be felt inside our body, especially if  the joint has degraded, as it does with arthritis. In this case, it might make sense that the individual we mentioned above with osteoarthritis might experience more back pain in cold weather while the individual with the spine abnormality may not.

Another theory of how weather can affect musculoskeletal pain relates to the soft tissues within and around our joints. Take the weight lifter above with a slipped disc. This disc is meant to cushion the vertebrae around it and act as a shock absorber. But what if the cold weather makes the fuild material within the disc thicker, more viscous? If that occurs it makes sense that the disc can’t perform it’s job as well. And, if the slipped disc is placing pressure on a sensitive nerve, this pressure would probably increase as the disc becomes tougher.

Some theorize that the cold weather prevents many individuals from being as active as they are in warmer weather. Activity and exercise can help keep your body, muscles, and joints strong and healthy. Less activity in colder months could potentially cause joints to stiffen and become more easily irritated.

So, What Do the Studies Show?

Studies aimed at determining if weather and pain are related have mixed results. In fact, in 2020 a researcher reviewed scientific literature and determined that more research was necessary to prove the relationship between the two. He notes the:

“association between weather and pain has been difficult to characterise”1

In 2017, researchers Telfer and Obradovich took a different approach2. They compared online searches for muscle and joint pain to weather conditions. They found there were more searches for things like knee pain and arthritis in the cold months than in warm ones. However, they speculated that could be due to people’s reduced physical activity during those month.

So, does cold weather affect back pain? Sounds like the jury is still out. But if you’re feeling more aches and pains as we head into the cold months, it may be time to get them checked out. If you live in the Capital, Saratoga, or North Country Region, contact us to see a spine specialist for your back pain.



  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32195783/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28792953/
  3. https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/weather-and-joint-pain
*Please Note: Information on this site or any recommended sites should not be used as a diagnosis or a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.
Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery