As we say goodbye to warm weather and look ahead to fall and winter, many people look forward to breaking out their sweaters, scarves, and boots. But if you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may dread the colder weather, as cool days make joints stiff and achy.
Here are a few tips for those with RA—or any arthritis affected by temperature change—to cope with the cold.
Weather makes a difference
Researchers have done multiple studies to uncover the link between weather and arthritis pain. Their findings have failed to turn up clinical proof of a connection. But patient experiences tell a different story.
A majority of those with rheumatoid arthritis report feeling differences in pain based on changes in temperature, humidity, or barometric pressure. Many RA patients also report that weather changes are one of the main triggers of a flare-up. According to one study, levels of pain for study subjects with RA were highest on cold, overcast days.1
Other types of arthritis can be affected too. Patients with osteoarthritis will report that swelling and warmth in their joints gets worse during weather changes.
Heat therapy helps joints
If the cold weather makes your pain worse, try adding heat therapy into your daily routine. This can decrease stiffness and promote healing through better circulation.
Here are some ways you can generate a little heat:
- Hold a hot pack, warm towel, or heating pad on the painful joint. Doing this for 20 minutes at a time can warm up the joint and provide temporary pain relief.
- Try using over-the-counter heat wraps or patches. These items are available in most pharmacies and can provide warmth for up to 8 hours.
- Take a dip. You may experience pain relief by swimming or doing water therapy in a heated pool a few times per week, or by soaking a whirlpool or hot bath.
- Get moving. It can be tempting to hibernate during cooler weather, but inactivity can actually increase your pain. Regular physical activity will keep joints warm and lubricated. If you prefer to stay inside, consider getting a treadmill so you can walk while you watch TV. Or exercise along with work-out videos. Check with your physician before you start a new exercise routine.
- "Rheumatoid arthritis patients show weather sensitivity in daily life, but the relationship is not clinically significant." Pain.1999 May;81(1-2):173-7