Battling the Heat and Back Pain

Battling the heat of summer when you have back pain as well could seem like a reason to turn on the AC and stay inside on your couch or bed. Hopefully these bits of information will help you use the summer weather as a tool to help relieve your pain while also avoiding the problems that may increase your pain during this season.

How weather affects pain levels

With summer in full swing, it is good to take a moment to be aware of our surroundings. Hot or cold temperatures, humidity, low pressure; many people with spinal problems are affected by weather changes.

Weather has a strange effect on pain. Since every person has a unique body and there are many sources of pain, any weather change may seem to cause increased pain in some while it brings relief for others. What are the major changes that occur in the summer?

  • Pressure - Changes in barometric pressure are commonly linked with pain. This too has to do with inflammation. 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 in your body 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. Study on back pain and pressure.
  • 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. USA Today source

Take advantage of warm summer weather to rehabilitate your back

For those who live in temperate climates, summer is the perfect time of year 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.

  • Swimming & 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. See Water Therapy Exercise Program.
  • Biking - For many with low back pain, biking is a good low impact form of exercise that is gentle on the lower back. See Bicycling and Back Pain.

It is especially important to stay hydrated when exercising in the summer. Drinking 1-2 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 1-2 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.

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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. Use these resources to keep your back pain under control while traveling:
  • Sleep - Developing and worsening insomnia is a concern during the summer. Long summer days can lead to a change in sleep patterns, where you go to sleep later in the night and sleep in later too. 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. If you are having problems with insomnia or are concerned about how to avoid it this summer, you can consult Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene and 11 Unconventional Sleep Tips.
  • Activities - There are many activities during the summer that 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. See Hamstring Stretching Video.
    • 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. See Avoid Back Injury with the Right Lifting Techniques.

Please remember these tips and facts so you can have the best summer with the least amount of pain.

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