Winter's Chill: How Cold Weather Impacts Arthritis

June 2023

As winter settles in, many individuals with arthritis find themselves bracing for increased pain and discomfort. The connection between arthritis and cold weather has long been a subject of interest and debate. Although more research is needed to fully understand how weather impacts arthritis, it's important to explore the possible ways in which winter and cold temperatures might affect arthritis.

In this article, we'll discuss how the cold weather can influence arthritis symptoms and provide simple tips to manage the condition during winter.

The Impact of Cold Weather on Arthritis

Joint Stiffness: When it's cold, your joints may become stiffer, making it harder to move. The low temperatures narrow your blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the joints. This can cause increased stiffness and less flexibility in your joints.

Increased Pain:
Many arthritis sufferers report that colder temperatures intensify their pain levels. We're not exactly sure why, but some think that changes in air pressure and humidity during winter may contribute to joint pain. Additionally, the cold weather may cause your muscles and tendons to tighten, adding to your discomfort.

Less Activity:
In winter, the cold weather often makes people less likely to be physically active. However, this lack of movement can lead to weaker muscles and less support for your joints, which can worsen arthritis symptoms. Being inactive may also result in weight gain, which puts extra stress on your joints and increases pain and inflammation.

Coping with Arthritis in Winter

#1. Dress Warmly: Layering up with warm clothing, including gloves, scarves, and thermal socks, can help to maintain body heat and keep joints insulated. Opt for loose-fitting, comfortable clothing to avoid unnecessary pressure on the joints.

#2. Stay Active: Regular exercise is crucial for managing arthritis, even during the winter months. Engaging in indoor activities such as swimming, yoga, or tai chi can help keep joints mobile and strengthen surrounding muscles. Be sure to consult with a suitable exercise professional for appropriate exercises tailored to your specific condition. For more information, read our free infosheet on Physical Activity.

#3. Apply Heat Therapy: Utilise heat therapy techniques to alleviate joint stiffness and reduce pain. Warm compresses, heating pads, or taking warm baths can provide temporary relief by promoting blood circulation and relaxing tense muscles. For more information, read our free article on hot and cold therapies. 

#4. Maintain a Healthy Diet: A well-balanced diet plays a vital role in managing arthritis symptoms. Incorporate foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (such as fish), antioxidants (found in fruits and vegetables), and vitamin D (fortified milk, eggs, and sunlight exposure) to help reduce inflammation and support joint health. For more information, read our free infosheet on Healthy Eating and Arthritis.

#5. Consider Joint Protection: When engaging in outdoor activities, joint support devices such as braces, splints, or compression sleeves may help provide stability and minimise stress on the joints. See an occupational therapist to learn ways to make daily tasks easier. Other ways to protect joints include avoiding repetitive motions or activities that strain your joints, or using assistive devices or ergonomic tools to reduce joint stress during daily tasks. For more information read our free infosheet on Fatigue and Arthritis.

#6. Manage Stress: Cold weather and increased pain can contribute to stress, which may further intensify arthritis symptoms. Practice stress-reduction techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or engaging in hobbies to promote relaxation and overall well-being. Seeking emotional support from friends, family, or support groups can provide encouragement and coping strategies to navigate the challenges of living with arthritis. Be aware of these feelings and get help if they start affecting your daily life. For more information, read our free infosheet on Arthritis and Emotional Wellbeing.

#7. Find ways to manage pain
. It can be useful to change the way you think about, and react to, pain. A psychologist can teach you skills to help you manage your pain and improve overall wellbeing. Keeping active, balancing activity and rest, and speaking with your doctor about medicines can all help you to manage pain. For more information, read our free infosheet on Dealing with Pain

Although scientific evidence is not conclusive, many people with arthritis experience increased symptoms during the winter.

Understanding the potential effects of cold weather on arthritis and taking appropriate steps can help you manage your symptoms effectively.

By keeping warm, staying active, eating well, protecting your joints, and managing stress, you can ease the challenges of arthritis even during the coldest winter days.

Remember to consult with your healthcare professional for personalised advice and guidance.

How Arthritis Queensland can help


Talk with a peer-mentor in our free Arthritis Assist service.

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