Back Pain and Summer Heat
Most of the country is currently experiencing high summer temperatures. For some people with back pain, the warm weather means relief, while others struggle with the effects of the heat.
Whether or not you love the heat, here’s how the hot weather may affect your back pain.
How weather affects pain levels
- Pressure. Changes in barometric pressure are commonly linked with pain. When there is high pressure in the atmosphere, it pushes on your skin and the liquids in your body to be smaller. Low pressure causes a slight increase in volume of those liquids. This increase in volume will push on bones and nerves that do not change size depending on atmospheric pressure and can cause pain or increase pain levels. Luckily, summer months have a slight tendency to be high pressure and tend to have fewer shifts in pressure (storms) than spring.
- Humidity. Changes in humidity have also been linked to pain levels. The most researched link is with headaches. The results of those studies have mostly shown that changes in humidity could cause changes in pain levels, but it was not consistent where low or high humidity days would have higher pain levels because some patients had more pain with low humidity while others felt worse with high humidity.
Take advantage of warm summer weather to rehabilitate your back
Warm weather is the perfect opportunity to re-engage in an appropriate outdoor exercise program to rehabilitate your back. Strong core body muscles, low-impact aerobic exercises, and regular stretching are all key to keeping back pain at bay.
Most types of exercise can be done year round, but the smell of fresh air is usually better than the inside of your local gym. Sunlight and green grass are signs of encouragement to get out and make the best of a pleasant day. The warm weather also allows for access to exercise not available during the rest of the year. Common sense, backed by many studies, suggests that just being in nature increases feelings of well-being and decreases stress, fear, and anger. So while it’s warm, get out and enjoy some natural scenery.
- Swimming and water therapy. Consider the summer a time to get out to your local lakes, rivers, and outdoor pools for swimming and water exercise, which tend to be especially gentle exercise for your joints and back.
- Biking. For many with low back pain, biking is a good low-impact form of exercise that is gentle on the lower back.
It is especially important to stay hydrated when exercising in the summer. Drinking 1 to 2 cups of water per hour and wearing sun block will reduce the rate of water loss and replenish your fluid level while outside. Drink an additional 1 to 2 cups per hour if you are actively exercising, even if it is swimming. Water hydration is especially important for people with disc problems as intervertebral discs benefit from staying hydrated sufficiently.
Summer hazards that may worsen back pain
The summer is a change in routine for many people.
Work hours may change, recreation activities may change, children are out of school, and the sunlight starts earlier and ends later. What should you look out for to keep back pain under control during the summer months?
- Travel. Summer vacations can be a lot of fun, but the travel generally involves sitting in a car or plane for extended periods of time.
- Sleep. Developing and worsening insomnia is a concern during the summer. Long summer days can lead to a change in sleep patterns. Increased activity out of the house can make it impossible to keep a consistent sleep and nap schedule. Summer vacation may have you sleeping on a different bed and mattress. Also, heat and humidity can make it difficult to be comfortable falling and staying asleep
- Activities. Many fun activities during the summer can aggravate back pain:
- Sporting events are great to attend during the summer, be it a child’s game or a professional competition. The downside is that stadium seats and bleachers are not very comfortable or supportive. If you are allowed, bring your own seating to a child’s game or a seat cushion if you have to sit in bleachers or stadium seats. Any type of portable product that provides support to your lower back while sitting will help.
- Amusement parks are also good summer fun, however they can require hours of standing in line for the most popular roller coasters and attractions. A very slow line might allow you to sit for short periods of time, otherwise keeping your body moving with leg and simple back stretches should keep you out of worse pain.
- Gardening in the summer, much like snow removal in the winter, can put a great deal of strain on your back. From digging and tilling to harvesting and carrying the fruit, herbs, and vegetables, it all can lead to worse back pain due to muscle stress and improper posture. The best ways to avoid this kind of pain are to take breaks so you are not hunched over for too long, to practice proper lifting techniques, and to stretch before going out to garden.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll be out in the summer heat as much as possible. I hope these tips help keep your back pain levels in check during these warm summer months.