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Can Weather Affect Sciatica?

Why Sciatica Can Flare Up in Colder Months

Question: Can weather affect pain? I have sciatica and have noticed that my pain seems almost unbearable in colder months but much more tolerable in the summer. Is there a connection with the temperature and the severity of pain?
Wilmington, DE

Answer: Definitely: There's a strong link between weather and severity of pain. Winter months are much more difficult for people living with pain, especially sciatica—shooting pain down your leg.

In colder months, muscles become a lot tighter and tenser because of decreased blood flow to them, while in warmer months, muscles are a lot looser.

Since cold weather causes muscles to stiffen up, you're more prone to injury—muscle strains and sprains—especially if you live in an area that gets hit hard by snow and you have to do a lot of shoveling. Snow shoveling can exacerbate an underlying condition—a herniated disc, for example—which can make your sciatic pain (also known as radiculopathy) worse.

And because sciatica originates in your lumbar spine (low back), it's smart to keep your back healthy and safe as well before going out in the cold.

Here are some general tips to help you avoid aggravating your sciatica in winter months:

  • Do simple, gentle stretches: Before any type of exertion outdoors, loosen up your muscles and joints indoors.
  • Avoid sudden movements: Abruptly lifting and reaching for something can make sciatica and low back pain worse.
  • Layer up: Piling on hats, gloves, scarves, sweaters, and even the long underwear can protect your body from being exposed to harsh winds and freezing temperatures.
  • Stay hydrated: Drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of water every day.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight: Eat healthy, nutritious foods and exercise on a regular basis to keep sciatic pain at bay. Being overweight can put extra pressure on your sciatic nerve. But before beginning any exercise program—even if it seems easy—have a conversation with your doctor.

Regardless of the weather, let your doctor know if your sciatica gets worse. He or she will work with you to create a personalized treatment plan to relieve your sciatica.

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