One of the persistent old wives tales we hear when people come in with undefined low back or neck pain is that they think they may have “caught a chill” in the back. The central conceit of this non-condition is that cold draughts or weather will cause a dramatic reduction in temperature of the spine or muscles, and that this somehow stays in the tissues causing ongoing aching and stiffness.

A man experiencing a "chill" in the back.

Credit: BJJ Rehab

There is no such thing as a “chill in the back”.

It is true that exposure to cold temperature, and particularly draughty, windy cold weather can cause stiffness of joints, increased muscular tension, slowing of nerve conduction and (eventually) lowering of body core temperature and hypothermia. Add rain to this mix and you increase the rate of heat loss from the body since water is a much better conductor than air.

This stiffness and tension can certainly be painful at the time, either from simply increasing muscle tension and shivering en masse, or by increasing compression of pre-existing pathology such as arthritis or tendinopathy.

However, once the body is removed from the cold and returned to normal temperature in a warm house, in a space blanket or by exercise (or being rescued by a St.Bernard with some Brandy) this pain disappears quickly.

There is no such thing as a “chill in the back”. If you’ve been in cold conditions and have pain that persists longer than 20mins after returning to a warm environment, you’ve probably hurt yourself and should seek physiotherapy assistance.

For more information on this topic and some potential causes, visit Healthline’s page on chills.