Skip to main content.

An arthritis survival guide for cold weather

Posted March 11, 2019 by Robert S. Crawford, MD, CAQSM, Summa Center for Sports Health, Summa Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine

Arthritis Blog

The calendar says Spring is coming – but the weather in Northeast Ohio still feels like winter. For those who suffer from arthritis, the chilly temperatures can cause serious discomfort. For some, the cold can even trigger severe body pain; we’ve all heard stories of ‘feeling’ the weather change.

How does the weather affect individuals with arthritis?

While more research is needed, there are a few theories as to why some individuals experience more severe joint pain in colder weather. When it’s cold out, the body has to work harder to heat your core. To conserve energy, more of the blood is sent to your central internal organs, like the heart and lungs. Research suggests the arms, legs and other outer extremities constrict when this happens, which may lead to stiff, painful joints.

The second most popular theory is that our bodies can feel a drop in barometric pressure before a storm arrives. If you can “feel” the cold coming before the weather has arrived, that could be due to the body’s reaction to our atmospheric pressure - the force exerted onto any surface by the weight of our atmosphere, at any given point. It usually drops quite rapidly when a storm is on its way and the body’s response to that drop could make joint pain more extreme.

A 2015 study from the National Institute of Health found a direct correlation between wet, winter days and a worsening of arthritis pain.

Arthritis can happen in any party of the body; however, cold weather achiness tends to be more common in the weight-bearing joints - knees, hips and ankles.

A few tips to survive the cold weather:

  1. Keep warm by layering loosely and covering all of your extremities. Gloves, hats and scarves help keep your body temperature regulated throughout your whole body. Remember to put these on well before you go outside.  However, be careful to not layer restricting clothes that may cause overheating.
  2. Stay hydrated. Even though it’s cold out, hydration is essential for flushing toxins out of the body. Toxins can cause inflammation, which can lead to stiffness and pain in the joints. 
  3. Consider exercising (indoors). If you suffer from arthritis and are overweight, weight loss and the addition of physical activity can significantly reduce the amount of pressure on the body’s joints. Indoor swimming and aquatic aerobics can be some of the easiest ways to get gentle, joint-friendly exercise in.
  4. Always wear dry, clean socks and waterproof boots to keep feet warm.
  5. Stretch every day. Regular stretching can help prevent pain and stiffness when the weather temperature drops. Simple basic stretches before bedtime or first thing in the morning that focus on the extremities will help keep the blood pumping in their direction. Think head, shoulders, knees and toes.
  6. A healthy balanced diet high in plants and lean protein and low in processed carbohydrates and sugars can help keep the joints in tip top shape. Omega-3 fatty acids also help fight inflammation and a vitamin D supplement can help keep your levels up, while the sun is not.

There are more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions. You probably know that arthritis affects your joints. But you may not know that other parts of your body, such as your skin, eyes, heart, kidneys and lungs, may also be affected by some types of arthritis. People of all ages can have arthritis, and it’s the leading cause of disability in the U.S. It is most common among women and occurs more frequently as people get older. Treatment options for arthritis vary based on the type and severity of the condition.

Summa Health Orthopedic Institute offers same day, next day appointments to help you get on the road to recovery faster. Our orthopedic specialists treat all conditions for bones, joints, cartilage, ligaments, muscles and tendons. Whether your injury is recent or has been getting worse over time, Summa's orthopedic specialists will provide you with treatment options, including the latest nonsurgical and surgical approaches. Summa Health Orthopedic Institute has multiple facilities throughout Northeast Ohio, serving patients with locations in cities such as Akron, Barberton, Hudson, Uniontown, Medina and Wadsworth, based in Medina, Stark and Summit counties. To get started, select a location nearest you or call 330.835.5533 today for assistance.


Options to Request an Appointment

If your situation is an emergency, call 911.