Does Cold Weather Make Arthritis Worse?
Cold weather can make your hands hurt – during winter, the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints in your hands do not move as easily, causing pain, numbing, and discomfort.
If you experience arthritis, you may have noticed your pain and discomfort increasing (in your hands, and other effected joints) as we move into the colder month of the year.
But does cold weather make arthritis worse? What is the relationship between arthritis and cold weather? There are a considerable number of clinical studies that support the theory that winter can impact arthritis. There are also a number of proven ways to alleviate hand pain in winter.
Within this article, we’re going to outline how arthritis is impacted by cold weather, whether winter can make arthritis worse, and what you can do to combat and prevent exacerbated arthritis pain during the colder period.
Arthritis and Cold Weather: Can Cold Weather Make It Worse?
Yes, depending on whether you have rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, winter and cold weather can exacerbate your symptoms.
To be clear, cold weather does not cause arthritis. It only exacerbates the aches and pains associated with the condition. Colder temperatures heighten your pain sensitivity, slow your blood circulation down, and are the catalyst for increased muscle spasms.
The most likely cause of this is the drop in barometric pressure. Typically, this occurs when a cold front is approaching, and this change in pressure causes your joints to expand, resulting in a painful feeling. Lower temperatures are also believed to slightly increase the thickness of the synovial fluid. This fluid acts as the shock absorber for your joints, and the increased thickness makes joints stiffer, and more sensitive to pain.
Studies have shown that both forms of arthritis, inflammatory and non-inflammatory, are affected by cold weather. From inflammatory rheumatoid arthritis to non-inflammatory osteoarthrosis, cold weather can make any aches feel far more painful.
Managing Arthritis in Cold Weather
Thankfully, there are things that can be done to help ease the discomfort of arthritis pain in winter. Here are a handful of suggestions from the Apricus Health team:
- Keep Warm
When it's cold, it's imperative that you keep your joints warm. Adding extra layers to critical areas like your knees, elbows, and wrists when you're outside will help lower the discomfort. At home, a hot water bottle or staying near a source of heat is great before heading to bed to ensure relaxed joints when it gets cooler at night. Heating pads, the moist heat kind, are great inserted into gloves or pockets to warm them up for your troublesome joints.
- Staying Active
Exercise is vital for anyone living with all forms of arthritis. Keeping moving during winter helps ease pain, increases your strength and flexibility, and boosts your overall energy. It’s not uncommon to take some time off exercise during the colder months, but it's important to keep active to counter the effects of the cold on your joints.
- Consider Arthritis Gloves
Arthritis gloves work in a similar fashion to compression garments worn on other parts of the body. They hug the joints tightly to boost your blood flow in the targeted area and keep your fingers warm. There are even some gloves with non-slip grip to make it easier to use your hands.
- Soak Up Vitamin D
Vitamin D has been associated with decreased pain in those with arthritis. Known as the 'sunshine vitamin', those with inflammatory arthritis show increased pain when their body's vitamin D levels drop. We're lucky in North Queensland to get plenty of sun, even in the colder months – however, it’s still important to make sure you're getting enough vitamin D when the temperature starts to drop.
- Warm Water
Bathing and swimming in warm water are great for managing arthritis and cold weather fatigue. Bathing relaxes your joints and is great for relaxing at night. Swimming in warm water is excellent hydrotherapy, keeping you active in the cold weather and supporting your joints at the same time.
- Splint Painful Joints
Sometimes our joints need a little external support in the colder months. Arthritis and cold weather are a difficult pairing, but with the help of splints or braces, you can help retain your range of motion and ease discomfort. Apricus Health offer a range of finger, wrist and elbow braces to fit, depending on your condition.
Often self-treatment at the chemist can see you equipped with the wrong brace that won't help at all! It's always better to go with the hand therapist for the best advice on managing arthritis pain in your hands with a brace.
So, does cold weather affect arthritis? The answer is a resounding yes. However, there are ways to prevent the pain during winter from getting worse. With the help of a qualified and experienced hand therapist, you can effectively manage your arthritis symptoms in winter. For more information on arthritis in the hands, or to talk to a hand therapist, you can get in touch with Apricus Health today. With clinics across North Queensland, Apricus Health offer a range of physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and hand therapy services to the region’s locals.