Everything to Know About Arthritis and Cold Weather (2022)

If you have arthritis, you might find that your joint pain is worse in the winter months. Healthcare providers and people with arthritis agree that cold weather could make arthritis pain worse. But the research connecting arthritis and colder temperatures isn't clear.

While researchers believe a connection exists, they do not offer conclusive reasons how or why cold weather makes arthritis worse. Further, no research or evidence has found that cold weather can cause arthritis.

The article covers the connection between arthritis and cold weather and how to reduce arthritis pain in the winter months.

Everything to Know About Arthritis and Cold Weather (1)

The term "arthritis" refers to over 100 conditions that cause joint pain. Arthritis can affect anyone of any age, race, or sex. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), arthritis affects an estimated 58.5 million U.S. adults.

The main symptoms of arthritis are swelling, tenderness, and stiffness of one or more joints. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

OA is a wear-and-tear type of arthritis that causes cartilage (the tissue that covers the ends of bones where they form a joint) to break down. RA is a type of inflammatory arthritis in which the immune system malfunctions and attacks healthy tissues, mainly the linings of the joints.

Treatments for arthritic conditions will vary depending on the type of arthritis you have. Treatment goals for arthritis are to improve symptoms, prevent joint damage, and help maintain a good quality of life.

Arthritis and Cold Weather

Researchers are not entirely sure why cold weather might exacerbate joint pain, but they have developed several theories.

The Relationship Is Causal

A 2015 study in the Journal of Rheumatology examined whether daily weather conditions, three-day average weather conditions, and weather changes could influence joint pain in older adults with OA.

That study suggested a causal relationship between joint pain and weather variables, although not from daily weather changes. Weather variables included temperature changes, precipitation, atmospheric pressure, relative humidity, and wind speed.

The authors conclude that information about OA joint pain and weather can help healthcare providers and people with OA better understand and manage pain fluctuations throughout the year.

Barometric Pressure Changes Mean Weather Sensitivity

Some researchers believe that decreases in barometric pressure can increase joint pain. Barometric pressure refers to the force or weight of air surrounding us. A fall in barometric pressure means worsening weather. This can iclude a heat change or an upcoming storm.

Sudden and harsh changes in barometric pressure have been found to affect human health. Researchers believe barometric pressure changes might be linked to various health conditions and symptoms, including headaches, muscle pain, the common cold, eczema (a chronic skin condition), and fatigue.

One theory about barometric pressure is that falling pressure can make muscles, tendons, and other tissues expand. There becomes a confined space in the body, especially in the joints, which leads to increased joint or muscle pain if you live with a muscular pain condition, like fibromyalgia.

A study reported in 2021 in the journal Rheumatology and Therapy aimed to understand if weather sensitivity was linked to clinical symptoms and structural abnormalities in people with knee OA. Nearly 58% of study participants said weather affected their knee-joint clinical symptoms.

(Video) Dr. Stephen Duncan answers a common question about cold weather and arthritis pain

Weather sensitivity was based on three questions, including whether warm or cold weather affects symptoms. In the article, the authors do not report which specific weather changes led to symptoms, just that weather changes increased symptoms.

A more thorough analysis showed that weather sensitivity contributed to knee pain, dysfunction, and overall clinical symptoms in knee OA. It was also linked to cartilage defects and bone marrow abnormalities.

A lowered barometric pressure usually exists before and during rainy weather. This pressure drop might cause already inflamed tissues to expand, leading to more joint pain. For example, a 2015 observational study found rheumatoid arthritis symptoms significantly improved on sunny, less humid days.

Females Are Especially Susceptible to Joint Pain in Winter

A 2022 study in the International Journal of Biometeorology found females with RA were more susceptible to extremely cold temperatures than males. The study participants were people of any sex with RA hospitalized in Anquig, China, from 2015 to 2019.

Most of those hospitalized were female. Hospitalizations were for people experiencing severe pain and needing pain-management injections who were also being treated for illnesses common in the winter, such as pneumonia. Hospitalizations increased when the temperatures were the coldest, and hospital admissions were lowest on days when the average temperature was 23.9 Fahrenheit.

Here, the study's authors suggest further exploring the connection between RA hospitalizations and temperature changes. By better understanding the connection, steps can be taken to manage and alleviate worsening symptoms that could potentially lead to joint damage and disease complications.

How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects the Genders

Genes Might Play a Part

The effect that winter weather has on the joints might be related to gene activity. One 2015 study in Nature Communications reports that genes that promote inflammation show increased activity in the winter months in some people. Further, the genes that suppress inflammation activate when the weather is warm.

This study involved more than 16,000 people and found that about 4,000 genes are affected by seasonal changes. According to the study's authors, these changes could explain why some inflammatory conditions (like rheumatoid arthritis) are aggravated in the winter and improve during the summer months.

Is Arthritis Hereditary?

Vitamin D Deficiency

Many people with inflammatory arthritis, like RA, are deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency might worsen joint pain. It is also more common in the winter months due to limited daylight hours and people avoiding outdoor activities due to cold weather.

Low levels are linked to higher disease activity (more symptoms), including in people with RA. More pain could lead to the need for more corticosteroid use and additional conditions (comorbidities) considered complications of the disease, such as osteoporosis (bone weakening) and lung disease.

In one study, researchers suggested the need for vitamin D testing and supplementation for people with RA.

(Video) Navigating Winter Weather: 5 Tips for Arthritis Patients | Johns Hopkins Rheumatology

How Hot Weather Affects Arthritis

For some people, warmer, drier weather can mean a reprieve from their arthritis symptoms. For others, their arthritis can flare in the summer because of the heat and humidity. If you are more susceptible to swollen joints, you will have more joint pain during the summer months, which might be the case for people with RA.

Summer barometric pressure changes can also have an impact on arthritis. One 2014 report in the journal PLoS One found people with RA frequently report joint swelling that correlates with air pressure regardless of the season.

Reducing Arthritis Pain in the Winter

Winter weather does not have to make you miserable just because you have arthritis. You can do plenty to stay healthy and manage arthritis symptoms during the winter months.

Keep Moving

Exercise is one of the most important things people with arthritis can do to manage their symptoms.

Being physically active helps reduce joint pain, increase strength and flexibility, maintain joint function, and improve energy levels and mood. It can also delay the onset of arthritis-related disabilities and reduce your risk for other chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Adults with arthritis can participate in joint-friendly exercises, which are low impact and put less stress on the body to reduce the risk of injury. Biking, walking, and swimming are all joint-friendly exercises.

If you struggle to get out during the winter months due to ice, snow, or cold temperatures, try mall walking or exercising along with online videos or workout apps. Or, if it's in your budget and you have the time, consider getting a gym membership. A gym membership might give you access to a pool or low-impact exercise classes for yoga or tai chi.

If you are new to exercise or have concerns about being active because of arthritis, reach out to a healthcare provider. They can give you information on safely exercising with arthritis or refer you to a physical therapist who can help you to get started.

How to Exercise Safely When You Have Arthritis

Stay Warm

Heat can be helpful in the winter months for dealing with stiff joints. It can boost blood flow and stimulate skin receptors to improve pain tolerance. Heat therapy might also relax your muscles and decrease spasms and stiffness.

You can gain the benefits of therapy in many ways. Examples include:

  • Taking a warm shower
  • Soaking in a warm bath
  • Using heating pads
  • Using an electric blanket
  • Using feet and hand warmers that can be slipped into your socks or gloves
  • Drinking warm beverages

Dress for the Weather

Dressing in thicker clothing can keep you warm, but it can be pretty uncomfortable, especially when you are hurting. Consider dressing in layers of lightweight clothing. This is a much better way to stay warm, and you can always remove clothing if you get too hot.

Layer up to protect your most sensitive and achy areas, including the hands, knees, and elbows.

Wear Compression Gloves

If you do not already own a pair, consider getting compression gloves. Most work well to trap heat and encourage blood flow.

(Video) 3 secrets to find relief from ARTHRITIS AND COLD WEATHER | Dr. Alyssa Kuhn

Because they are fingerless, they are made for indoor wear, which means you can wear them at home, while sleeping, or even at work.

Get Your Vitamin D

During the winter months, it is essential to get enough vitamin D. For people with inflammatory arthritis, keeping your vitamin D at a normal level could cause less pain.

Everyone should get at least 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily. You can achieve this by eating vitamin D–rich foods or with supplements.

If you suspect your vitamin D is low, reach out to a healthcare provider about tested. Your provider might recommend supplements to get you back on track if your levels are low.

Improving Symptoms During the Summer Months

If you are someone whose arthritis worsens in hot and humid weather, you might consider better ways to manage symptoms as the weather warms up.

You can manage arthritis in the summer months by:

  • Staying hydrated because dehydration can increase the risk for an arthritis flare-up
  • Dressing comfortably in light clothing and wearing comfortable shoes while outdoors
  • Avoiding activities that put extra stress on joints and result in injury
  • Planning activities during the early morning hours or evening to avoid hot temperatures that could trigger a flare
  • Not overdoing activities to avoid triggering an arthritis flare
  • Exercising safely when it is hot outside to prevent injury and avoid getting overheated
  • Finding ways to stay cool by drinking plenty of cold beverages and staying in air-conditioned spaces, or making use of fans

Summary

Winter can be rough for people with arthritis—both inflammatory arthritis and osteoarthritis. For most, symptoms seem to worsen in the winter months. For a lucky few, winter is a reprieve from joint pain and swelling.

Despite much research, scientists have not been able to determine why cold weather exacerbates arthritis symptoms, but they have formed theories. These include barometric pressure changes, vitamin D deficiency, genes, and which groups of people might be more susceptible to weather sensitivity.

But winter weather doesn't have to make you miserable with arthritis. You can do plenty to stay healthy and warm and keep arthritis flares at bay.

A Word From Verywell

The winter months can bring about more cases of the flu, pneumonia, bronchitis, or the common cold. People with inflammatory arthritis and comorbidities related to arthritis are at a greater risk for infections.

You should stay away from people who are coughing, sneezing, or who appear under the weather. Avoid crowded places and make sure you and other family members are vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19. If you do get sick, take time away from work and other responsibilities to allow yourself to rest and recover.

Frequently Asked Questions

FAQs

Does cold weather have anything to do with arthritis? ›

While cold weather doesn't cause arthritis, it can exacerbate aches and pains. According to the Arthritis Foundation, frigid temperatures can heighten pain sensitivity, slow blood circulation and cause muscle spasms.

How do people survive winter with arthritis? ›

Tips for Dealing with Arthritis Pain in Winter
  1. Stay warm and layer up. Keeping those achy joints warm is a top way to reduce the pain. ...
  2. Eat a healthy diet. ...
  3. Get your stress under control. ...
  4. Stay active and exercise. ...
  5. Consider wearing compression gloves. ...
  6. Get your vitamin D. ...
  7. Skip the soda. ...
  8. Sleep it off.
20 Dec 2019

Why is arthritis so painful in cold weather? ›

A fall in barometric pressure, which often occurs as a cold front approaches, can cause joints to expand, which may result in pain. Low temps may also increase the thickness of the synovial fluid that acts as the joint's shock absorber, which makes joints stiffer and more sensitive to pain.

What is worse for arthritis cold or hot weather? ›

“Many people say their joint stiffness gets worse in very hot weather, and that may be at least partly related to fluid retention,” says Dr Carol Cooper, GP with an interest in rheumatology. “Keeping cool, staying in the shade and wearing natural fabrics can help.

What helps joint pain in cold weather? ›

Apply heating pads to painful areas. Heat helps relax your muscles. Get up, walk around and be active indoors and outdoors. Stretch before going outside to loosen stiff joints.

What climate is best for arthritis? ›

El Paso, Texas. El Paso in west Texas has low humidity, hot summers, and mild winters, making it one of the best places to live with arthritis.

What weather worsens arthritis? ›

Which Weather Conditions Are Worst? If you combine results of the various studies, the general consensus is that cold, wet weather is the worst for inciting arthritis pain.

Does arthritis make you tired? ›

Many people with arthritis say fatigue is one of their biggest challenges. Fatigue can be linked to many types of arthritis and related conditions. It's commonly a symptom of autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, reactive arthritis and lupus.

Which type of arthritis is worse? ›

Rheumatoid arthritis can be one of the most painful types of arthritis; it affects joints as well as other surrounding tissues, including organs. This inflammatory, autoimmune disease attacks healthy cells by mistake, causing painful swelling in the joints, like hands, wrists and knees.

What is the main reason for arthritis? ›

Arthritis is caused by inflammation of the joints. Osteoarthritis usually comes with age and most often affects the fingers, knees, and hips. Sometimes osteoarthritis follows a joint injury. For example, you might have badly injured your knee when young and develop arthritis in your knee joint years later.

Is arthritis a disability? ›

Arthritis affects a person's overall function and mobility, which can result in activity and other limitations. It is a leading cause of work disability among US adults.

Can arthritis be cured? ›

There is no cure for arthritis. The treatment goal is to limit pain and inflammation and preserve joint function. Treatment options include medicines, weight reduction, exercise, and surgery.

What's the best medicine for arthritis pain? ›

NSAIDs . Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Examples include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve).

Is sea air good for arthritis? ›

Sea water contains silicic acid which helps ease skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis. It has a great effect on anyone with rheumatism, arthritis, back or joints pain,contracted muscles.

How do you stop an arthritis flare up? ›

To prevent osteoarthritis flare-ups, take care to ensure you don't overwork an arthritic joint. And if you do experience a flare-up, you can help relieve your symptoms by using a warming pad or warm compress, taking over-the-counter pain relievers or just giving the joint some rest.

How do I get my bones to stop aching? ›

You may get temporary relief from bone pain by using over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen. Osteomyelitis typically requires treatment with either oral or intravenous antibiotics.

Does rain make arthritis worse? ›

Blame it on the rain

Many people with arthritis feel worsening symptoms before and during rainy days. A drop in pressure often precedes cold, rainy weather. This drop in pressure may cause already inflamed tissue to expand, leading to increased pain.

How do I keep my joints warm in the winter? ›

Staying Warm
  1. Wear Light but Warm Layers. Wearing several layers of clothing is the best way to trap warm air close to your body. ...
  2. Wear Compression Socks and Gloves. ...
  3. Take a Hot Bath or Shower. ...
  4. Sleep with Extra Warmth. ...
  5. Daytime Outdoor Activities. ...
  6. Take Classes. ...
  7. Get a Massage. ...
  8. Consume Vitamin D.
5 Dec 2019

What is the best place to live if you have arthritis? ›

According to the report's authors, Maryland scored the highest marks for the best state to live in with Arthritis because it has a very high concentration of rheumatologists and a low rate of residents without health insurance.

Is the sun good for arthritis? ›

Sun helps the body synthesize vitamin D, which is essential for bone health and a well-functioning immune system; vitamin D deficiency has been linked to autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Plus, sunshine boosts mood by raising levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain.

How do you live comfortably with arthritis? ›

7 ways to live better with arthritis
  1. Keep moving. Avoid holding one position for too long. ...
  2. Avoid stress. Avoid positions or movements that put extra stress on joints. ...
  3. Discover your strength. ...
  4. Plan ahead. ...
  5. Use labor-saving items and adaptive aids. ...
  6. Make home modifications. ...
  7. Ask for help.
17 May 2011

Why does arthritis hurt more at night? ›

Lying down can cause inflammatory chemicals to pool in the fluid that cushions your joints, which makes them stiffen up. And your perception of pain may be heightened during the nighttime because you're not distracted by anything else.

Does the sun make arthritis worse? ›

Prolonged exposure to sunlight without protection can be harmful to anyone, but for those with conditions like arthritis, it can be especially damaging, and it may trigger a flare-up.

Which is worse for arthritis cold or humidity? ›

The second study included more than 800 adults living in one of six European countries and who had osteoarthritis of the hip, knee, or hands. Although changes in weather did not seem to affect symptoms, higher humidity was linked with increasing pain and stiffness, especially in colder weather.

Does More sleep Help arthritis? ›

Many people blame their restless nights on arthritis pain. But research finds that the relationship actually works both ways — poor sleep can make your joint pain worse, and even increase the likelihood that you may become disabled or depressed.

Should you push through arthritis pain? ›

Stay active, when you can

On the whole, the answer is "keep moving." Your joints were made to move. They need movement to nourish the joint and keep the muscles around the joint strong and limber. Doctors encourage their patients with arthritis to be as active as they can—as long as it isn't exacerbating joint pain.

Does arthritis show up on xray? ›

X-rays are often a good tool for determining if arthritis exists and, specifically, what type. Common types of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and osteoarthritis.

Which arthritis can cripple you? ›

Osteoarthritis (OA) can be crippling if untreated as it disintegrates the cartilage that supports the joints of the spine, knees, hands, and spine.

What kind of arthritis is crippling? ›

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is recognized as the most disabling type of arthritis.

Who gets arthritis the most? ›

Not only do women get more arthritis than men (one in four compared to one in five), but women also often experience worse pain –ache in different joints – and are far more vulnerable to rheumatoid arthritis, one of the most debilitating forms of the condition.

What foods trigger arthritis? ›

Red meat, such as burgers and steaks. Processed meats like hot dogs, brats and other sausages. Refined carbohydrates like the ones you find in breads and pastries. Dairy products, because for many people, casein, a protein common in milk, ice cream and cheese, has been shown to irritate the tissue around joints.

Where does arthritis usually start? ›

Usually, the small joints of the fingers and toes are affected first. The most common symptom is stiffness, and it takes a long time to get the joints moving, especially in the morning.

Does arthritis hurt all the time? ›

Pain from arthritis can be constant or it may come and go. It may occur when at rest or while moving. Pain may be in one part of the body or in many different parts.

Can I claim anything if I have arthritis? ›

If you're struggling to work because you have arthritis, you may be able to claim government benefits or get help through financial support schemes.

How much disability will I get for arthritis? ›

If you are approved for Social Security Disability benefits for arthritis, the amount that you will receive is based on your average lifetime earnings. You will receive an annual statement that details your Social Security earnings to date, and it also provides a disability benefits estimate.

What removes arthritis? ›

Common treatments for arthritis include anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, occupational therapy, assistive aids, and nonpharmacological therapies. If standard treatments do not work or the joints become too damaged, arthritis surgery may be necessary.

What are the six main treatments for arthritis? ›

Reactive Arthritis: 6 Treatments to Consider
  • Antibiotics.
  • NSAIDs.
  • Steroids.
  • DMARDs.
  • TNF blockers.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Call your doctor.

Does arthritis go away with exercise? ›

Exercise helps ease arthritis pain and stiffness

It increases strength and flexibility, reduces joint pain, and helps combat fatigue. Of course, when stiff and painful joints are already bogging you down, the thought of walking around the block or swimming a few laps might seem overwhelming.

Is CBD oil good for arthritis? ›

A: At a time when we are trying to reduce the use of pain relievers, CBD oil can be an effective approach to managing the pain of arthritis. Researchers have also recognized the role that CBD could play in reducing the pain-causing inflammation of arthritis. However, its effectiveness will vary from person to person.

What blood test shows arthritis? ›

Some of the main blood tests used include: erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) – which can help assess levels of inflammation in the body. C-reactive protein (CRP) – another test that can help measure inflammation levels.

Which is better for arthritis Tylenol or ibuprofen? ›

Ibuprofen is more effective than acetaminophen for treating inflammatory pain conditions. Ibuprofen is FDA-approved to treat osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, whereas acetaminophen may be used off-label for these conditions. However, acetaminophen may cause less serious side effects than ibuprofen.

Is Florida good for people with arthritis? ›

3 – MYTH: Cold, wet climates make arthritis worse. FACT: There is no scientific evidence supporting the theory that a particular climate is better for people with arthritis.

Is the pool good for arthritis? ›

Swimming can be a good choice of exercise if you have arthritis because it: stimulates blood circulation and can reduce muscle stiffness and ease pain. helps to maintain and build strength and cardiovascular fitness.

Does hydrating help arthritis? ›

Staying hydrated is vital when you live with arthritis. Hydration is key for flushing toxins out of your body, which can help fight inflammation, and well-hydrated cartilage reduces the rate of friction between bones, meaning you can move more easily.

What slows arthritis down? ›

Arthritis progression can be slowed or halted through a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle. Certain types of arthritis can be treated with methotrexate and other disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) that can slow disease progression.

Does coffee make arthritis worse? ›

Most studies haven't found a significant risk between drinking coffee and developing or worsening RA. That's good news if you can't start your day without it. The anti-inflammatory compounds found in caffeine may even help with your RA symptoms.

Does stress affect arthritis? ›

But ongoing stress can take a toll on your health. It can also make any health condition that you have feel worse, including arthritis. When your body is under stress, it releases chemicals that can trigger inflammation and pain. So you might be more likely to have arthritis flare-ups when you're feeling stress.

Which is worse for arthritis cold or humidity? ›

The second study included more than 800 adults living in one of six European countries and who had osteoarthritis of the hip, knee, or hands. Although changes in weather did not seem to affect symptoms, higher humidity was linked with increasing pain and stiffness, especially in colder weather.

Does arthritis get better in warm weather? ›

Although drier, warmer weather may result in less pain, it doesn't affect the course of the disease. Arthritis patients who reside in warmer climates are not spared from arthritis pain.

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