Entering Winter! What you need to know for managing your arthritis

As the season changes and colder temperatures start to hit, people who have arthritis often experience increased joint pain, stiffness, and discomfort around this time of year.

Many people who live with arthritis report that humidity, along with other factors such as temperature, weather changes, and weather patterns, increase joint pain or trigger arthritis flares so there’s no denying that weather and climate can have a significant effect on arthritis and painful joints.

In a recent 2019 British study, which included more than 2,600 participants, a modest, but significant, correlation was established between pain and three weather components — relative humidity, air pressure and wind speed. Participants were required to enter symptom information into their smart phones in real-time over a 15-month period so the researchers could assess the relationship between pain and climate. Interestingly, Temperature, however, did not have a significant association with pain. Other studies, however, have shown that exposure to lower temperatures does have a significant effect on joint pain. In a separate 2007 study of 200 people with knee OA, pain intensified with colder ambient temperatures and for every 10-degree drop in temperature, pain scores increased.

If you are someone who experiences more pain in the colder climates, here are some essential tips to help you stay comfortable and minimize joint pain with winter fast approaching:

  1. Dress Warmly: Layering your clothing can help maintain warmth and minimize the impact of cold weather on your joints. With thermal undergarments, cozy sweaters, and thick socks to keep your body temperature regulated, this can help prevent exposure to cold temperatures. Don’t forget to wear insulated gloves and warm shoes or boots to protect your hands and feet.
  2. Use Heat Therapy: Make use of heating pads, hot water bottles, or warm towels to provide localized warmth to affected areas. Applying heat to your joints can help alleviate stiffness and soothe arthritis pain. Warm baths or showers can also be beneficial for overall relaxation and joint mobility.
  3. Stay Active: It may be tempting to avoid exercise during the winter months, but staying active is crucial for managing arthritis. By continuing to engage in low-impact exercises that are gentle on your joints, such as swimming, cycling, or walking indoors, this can help maintain joint flexibility, strengthen muscles, and reduce pain. If going outside for exercise, ensure you warm up properly to prevent injuries.
  4. Maintain a Healthy Weight: Excess weight can put added stress on your joints and worsen arthritis symptoms. Strive to maintain a healthy weight to alleviate joint pain and reduce the pressure on load bearing. Follow a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Soups and Stir-fries are easy and delicious ways to not only make sure you get those wholefoods in your diet, but keep you warm as well. You could consult a registered dietitian for personalized advice on managing your weight and optimizing your nutrition, or visit the NSW Get Healthy Program.
  5. Protect Your Joints: When engaging in outdoor activities or chores, take precautions to protect your joints from the cold. Wear supportive footwear with good traction to prevent slips and falls. Use joint-friendly tools with larger handles to reduce strain on your hands and wrists. Consider using knee pads or a cushion when kneeling to minimize pressure on your knees.
  6. Practice Gentle Stretching: Regular stretching exercises can help improve joint flexibility and reduce stiffness. Incorporate gentle stretching routines into your daily routine, focusing on the affected joints. Consult with a physical therapist or occupational therapist for guidance on appropriate exercises and techniques.
  7. Manage Stress: Stress can exacerbate arthritis symptoms. Engage in stress-management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness practices. Engaging in hobbies, spending time with loved ones, or pursuing activities that bring you joy can also help alleviate stress and promote overall well-being.
  8. Ensure Proper Indoor Heating: Maintaining a warm and comfortable indoor environment is crucial for managing arthritis in winter. Ensure that your home is adequately heated and insulated, or ensure you at least have access to blankets and rugs that can keep you warm. You may want to use small space heaters or heating pads to create localized warmth in rooms where you spend the most time.
  9. Stay Positive and Seek Support: Maintaining a positive mindset and seeking support from friends, family, or arthritis support groups can make a significant difference in managing arthritis during winter. Share your experiences, challenges, and coping strategies with others who understand and can provide valuable support.

It’s important to listen to your body, adapt your routine as needed, and consult with your healthcare provider for personalized advice and treatment options. With proper self-care and proactive measures, you can minimize the impact of arthritis during the winter season and enjoy a more comfortable and active lifestyle.

Mary Zaogtsis
Health Educator
Arthritis NSW