Unraveling the Surprising Link Between Summer Heat and Worsening Back Pain | Virginia Spine Institute
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Unraveling the Surprising Link Between Summer Heat and Worsening Back Pain

Authored by Dr. Christopher Good, MD, FACS. August 9, 2023

As Featured on WPIX New York City News

As the sweltering summer heat blankets the nation, impacting millions of Americans under direct heat alerts, it’s not just the discomfort of the high temperatures that we need to be concerned about. Beyond the sunburns and heat exhaustion, this season brings with it an unexpected concern: worsening back pain. 

Although the exact relationship between hot weather and back pain remains partially elusive and can vary from person to person, several factors may contribute to this phenomenon. It is essential to consider that the direct impact of heat on back pain might not be the primary factor; rather, it could be the combination of various factors.

Changes in Weather Can Cause Inflammation 

Heat can also induce inflammation in certain individuals, particularly around the nerves or muscles in the back, potentially compressing nerves and leading to pain.

This may be the most surprising cause of back pain because it seems counter-intuitive. Warm weather feels gentler on our bodies, inspiring people to get active and engage in more outdoor activities. But changes in barometric pressure and humidity, especially extreme shifts up and down, are linked with pain in general.

Heatwaves often coincide with high humidity levels, which can exacerbate inflammation in the body. For individuals with existing back conditions such as arthritis or herniated discs, increased inflammation can intensify pain and discomfort. It is essential to manage inflammation through dietary choices, proper hydration, and, if necessary, consulting healthcare professionals for medical intervention.

Increased Activity and Dehydration Can Lead to Poor Spinal Disc Health

One of the most crucial yet overlooked aspects of dealing with extreme heat is maintaining adequate hydration. During heatwaves, the risk of dehydration becomes even more significant, as people tend to perspire more and might not drink enough water to compensate for the fluid loss. Dehydration can lead to reduced disc hydration and spinal flexibility, leaving the back susceptible to pain and discomfort. Proper hydration is essential in maintaining the spine’s health and cushioning the discs that act as shock absorbers between vertebrae

For instance, dehydration during hot summer months could be a significant contributor to back pain. Engaging in physical activities, such as playing pickleball, while not adequately hydrated can exacerbate existing back issues.

Poor Sleep Ergonomics Can Cause Back Pain 

Warm conditions can make it harder to sleep at home and trying to get comfortable on different mattresses as you travel can also be a challenge.

The unbearable heat can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to inadequate rest and poor-quality sleep. Insufficient sleep is a known contributor to back pain as it impairs the body’s ability to recover and rejuvenate during the night. As a result, individuals may wake up feeling stiff and sore, with their back pain seemingly intensified.

Prolonged Sitting Can Weaken Back Muscles and Put Pressure on the Spinal Discs

Sitting for long periods of time, whether on a car ride or in an airplane, can exacerbate aches and pains.

Additionally, while the allure of air-conditioned spaces during hot weather is undeniable, it can inadvertently encourage a more sedentary lifestyle. Instead of staying active, many people may choose to remain indoors, leading to prolonged periods of sitting or lying down. Inactivity and a lack of regular exercise can weaken the back muscles, making it more prone to pain. Additionally, when the body is at rest for extended periods, pressure on the spinal discs may increase, contributing to back pain

Outdoor Activities Can Lead to Back Injuries 

There are so many fun summer activities to take part in. But many involve sitting on benches, bleachers, and picnic blankets, which isn’t ideal for back support. Standing in line for tickets or waiting for an amusement park ride adds stress to your lower back. Popular summer sports like golf and pickleball are driving up disc injuries and muscle strains that exacerbate back and neck pain.

Summer often entices people to engage in various outdoor activities such as sports, gardening, and vacations. While these activities are enjoyable, they can also put significant strain on the back if not performed with proper form and precautions. Lifting heavy objects incorrectly, overexertion during physical activities, and sudden movements can lead to sprains, strains, or even more severe injuries to the back.

 

While the correlation between hot weather and back pain is not fully understood, it is crucial to consider factors like dehydration, reduced physical activity, inflammation, and vasodilation when examining its potential impact on back health.

We must be aware of the surprising impact heat can have on back pain. From dehydration and disc health to our daily activity levels, the summer poses unique challenges to maintaining a healthy back. By staying hydrated, remaining physically active, practicing proper body mechanics – seeking medical attention when needed – we can reduce the likelihood of experiencing worsening back pain during this scorching season.

Remember, prevention is key, and being mindful of our bodies’ needs can make all the difference in ensuring a pain-free and enjoyable summer. Stay cool, stay hydrated, and take care of your back amidst the sizzling heat!


Dr. Christopher Good is a double board certified spine surgeon and the President of Virginia Spine Institute. Established as a world expert in the field, Dr. Good has pioneered the use of robotics, navigation, and augmented reality (AR) in spine surgery. He performed the first two-level disc replacement in Metro DC, Maryland, and Virginia region, and continues to evolve motion-enhancing procedures for patients suffering from neck and back conditions. Dr. Good has been named “Top Doctor” consistently over the past decade.  Learn more about Dr. Christopher Good.

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Dr. Christopher Good, MD, FACS

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