4 Ways to Relieve Arthritis in Winter

Tips to manage your arthritis in cold weather.
Author: Michael Hickey

Cold-weather months are always a challenge for people with arthritis, but this year might be even more difficult. With the COVID-19 pandemic likely to last through winter, many will try to find ways to get out of their homes more often instead of staying cooped up inside.

That means more time out in the cold. How can you go outside and face the elements while managing arthritis? Keep these four tips in mind.

Layer for Cold Weather

Be sure to bundle up any time you want to brave the cold for some exercise or fresh air. As the temperature drops, so does barometric pressure. When this happens, tissue in the body expands and puts more pressure on your nerves, which leads to more pain.

Keeping warm improves circulation and relaxes joints and muscles, which reduces that stiffness and pain. So make sure you have your winter clothes handy, wear long sleeves, keep your extremities covered, use waterproof gear on snowy days and wear insulating fabrics, such as wool. Want a comprehensive layer-building guide? You’re in luck: There are plenty to check out.

Just remember that you could overheat if you’re active for a long stretch, so use breathable materials for your outer layer and be prepared to shed an item or two.

Don’t Hibernate: Staying Active in the Cold

Some might assume that exercising would be harmful to those with arthritis. However, regular exercise can increase strength and flexibility, reduce fatigue and alleviate joint pain, which is especially helpful in the winter as the cold weather puts more pressure on your body. When you build strength, your muscles will be better equipped to support your joints.

So don’t stop exercising regularly once winter comes around. Want to get outside? The Arthritis Foundation recommends walking outdoors as an arthritis-friendly activity, as long as you stick to even terrain and dirt trails. The foundation also recommends cross-country skiing, which is not as demanding on your joints as downhill skiing but still provides a quality workout. That said, it’s not recommended for those with moderate to severe arthritis in the upper or lower body.

Before making any changes to your exercise regimen, consult your doctor to get a sense of what is appropriate for you.

Get Your Vitamin D

Make sure your body has what it needs to maintain joint health by getting the right amount of vitamin D. Studies show that reduced vitamin D intake can make people more susceptible to developing rheumatoid arthritis and can affect the severity of the disease.

Vitamin D helps keep your bones strong, reduces inflammation and improves muscle function. With the right intake, you’ll be more prepared to manage your arthritis, even as you face the winter cold. There are a few ways to get more vitamin D, such as taking supplements, exposing yourself to sunlight and eating food with high levels of the vitamin.

Talk to your doctor about the recommended vitamin D intake for you.

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration is often associated with hot summer days, but winter also carries the risk of dehydration. In fact, sweat evaporates more quickly in the cold air, which causes dehydration. And lack of hydration is associated with joint pain, since you’re not properly lubricating your joints. 

Keep this in mind as you get ready to go outside in the winter. How much should you drink? The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined the adequate daily fluid intake to be about 15.5 cups of fluids a day for men and about 11.5 cups for women.