Cold weather exercise tips for arthritis sufferers
Does the Weather Make Rheumatoid Arthritis Worse?
Scientists haven't found a clear link between rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and frigid temperatures, but these pain-relieving tips can still help you feel better.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Sanjai Sinha, MD
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For some people living with rheumatoid arthritis, the onset of winter’s frigid weather means a flare of aches and pains, but researchers have yet to find any concrete evidence supporting the idea that pain increases when the temperature decreases.
It’s more likely that things appear (or feel) a bit worse when the weather is grim. Dark skies can lead to bouts of depression, which are closely linked to pain, says Kimberly Bennett, PhD, PT, a lecturer at the University of Washington Department of Rehabilitation Medicine in Seattle. People are also less motivated to exercise when the weather is poor, and exercise helps control pain, Dr. Bennett adds.
"When they looked at the prolonged clinical trials, they did not find a relationship between weather and the activity of arthritis and pain," says Abby Abelson, MD, chair of the department of rheumatic and immunologic diseases at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. But that doesn’t mean that what people living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are feeling isn’t real.
"The reality is that, for people with RA and other kinds of arthritis, their symptoms can wax and wane," Dr. Abelson says. “Some people notice a pattern in their own body.”
“Everybody is different,” she adds. “I never disregard what people notice about their arthritis. They're living with it – it's their disease.”
Ease Joint Pain in Extreme Weather Conditions
If extreme temperatures or humidity changes make rheumatoid arthritis symptoms feel worse, take these steps to ease your pain:
- Exercise. "I always recommend exercise," Abelson says. Avoid high-impact exercises, but engage in stretching and range of motion exercises. Water-based exercise is also great when you’re struggling with RA pain.
- Get plenty of sleep. "Sleep and pain are closely related," Bennett says. Research shows insufficient sleep triggers worsened pain and mood in RA patients. Get a full night's rest each night to feel better each day. A study published in 2019 in the Scandinavian Journal of Rheumatology found patients with RA who weren’t sleeping well also experienced pain and fatigue and noted that patients taking so called "z-drugs" (Zopidem, Zaleplon) or benzodiazepines had interrupted sleep. If you're having trouble sleeping make sure to discuss your sleep patterns and any medications you're taking (including supplements) with your doctor.
- Keep stress in check. Emotional stress can also aggravate pain. Try relaxation techniques, biofeedback, or meditation.
- Warm up to cool down pain. Use a heating pad or a warm bath to control RA pain.
- Rest up. Take it easy when your body is overworked. It can be as simple as babying the painful part of your body.
- Move. Abelson doesn’t recommend moving to a different climate, even if you feel that cold weather worsens your RA symptoms. Instead, to stay warm. How you live is more important than where you live in relation to weather and RA pain, she says. "Be where you have a life that's happy, satisfying, and active," Abelson adds.
Video: Arthritits | weather arthritis
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