Staying warm this winter

18 October 2023
Woman and man wrapped up in warm coat and scarves feeding ducks

Between slippery paths and stiff joints, we know that winter can be a tough time if you’re living with arthritis. But there are steps you can take to keep yourself safe and healthy

Is arthritis worse in cold weather? 

Smiling Sarah wearing knitted bobble hatSome people living with arthritis report that their symptoms, such as stiffness and joint pain, gets worse in winter. But everyone’s experience is different.  

Some people say their pain levels increase when the weather is cold and damp, while other might experience the opposite.  

If you live with another condition, called Raynaud’s phenomenon, you might also find the cold weather tough. This causes blood to stop flowing properly to the outer parts of the body, such as your fingers and toes. And it can be triggered by the cold or stress.

Sarah lives with Raynaud’s phenomenon and describe it “as sparklers going off at the ends of my fingers.” 

“My fingers go white and then blue or even purple. They can go cold and numb. Sometimes I won’t be able to drive home until the pain has stopped in my hands and the feeling has come back.  

“It can take a few minutes for feeling to come back once I’m in the warm, or it can take half an hour. They’re very frequent in the winter.” 

Is there any research about how the weather affects people with arthritis? 

Research in this area is limited. However, a study we funded in 2010 at the University of Manchester called ‘Cloudy with A Chance of Pain’, found that days with higher humidity, lower pressure, and stronger winds were associated with days where pain increased significantly.

The researchers are now using this data to help understand how pain is affected by other factors such as mood and sleep.  

Coping with arthritis in cold weather

Here are a few tips to help you stay warm and healthy during the winter months.  

Keep your home warm 

Smiling Dave standing in field

The NHS recommends heating your home to at least 18°C if you can. But if you prefer it warmer, choose a temperature that’s comfortable for you.

If you’re struggling to afford to heat your home, there are grants, benefits and advice out there to help make your home more energy efficient and improve your heating.  

Older people can get help paying heating bills through the Winter Fuel Payment scheme for example. And if you’re getting certain benefits, you could also be entitled to Cold Weather Payments

Dave, 54, lives with osteoarthritis and Raynaud's phenomenon. He says he's taken steps to better insulate his home. “We had wooden floor downstairs, but a draft came through the floorboards, so we got vinyl fitted,” he explains.  

"We’ve put a draft excluder around the door, and we’ve put blinds up to keep the cold out. Also, the attic hatch has been given insulation.” 

Wear suitable clothing 

Unsure what to wear this winter? Remember lots of loose layers of clothing works better at trapping the heat than thicker clothes.  

If your hands feel chilly, you could try hand warmers or heated gloves. Wearing a hat will reduce the amount of heat you lose through your head. And wearing thicker (or two pairs of) socks will help you keep your feet warm. 

Because of his condition, Dave says his “hands and feet swell, turn blue and at the coldest are extremely painful."

"“I wear alpaca socks and merino gloves to keep my hands and feet warm.” 

Keep warm 

Applying a hot-water bottle or microwavable wheat bag to stiff or achy joints might offer a bit of relief. Plus, you could use these to keep your bed warm. 

You could also try having a long soak in a warm bath or a hot shower. Not only will this warm you up, but it should hopefully help to ease your joints.  

“Cold weather impacts me massively. I set aside 15 minutes in the morning to do my stretches, take hot baths with Epsom salts and I wear compression gloves in the office.”

Jade, 32, who lives with psoriatic arthritis

Get your flu vaccination

Dealing with the flu can be tough at the best of times, but it can be even tougher for anyone with a weakened immune system.  

If you’re living with an inflammatory type of arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis) or are taking steroids or disease-modifying anti-rheumatoid drugs (DMARDs), you should get your flu vaccination this winter.  

If you're eligible for an NHS flu vaccine, you can: 

Prevent falls 

As the temperature drops, you might find that the footpaths get a bit slippery and icy. If you're worried about falling, there are some precautions you can take.  

For starters, try to wear shoes with a good grip and be cautious on snowy or sloped ground. Instead, stick with cleared footpaths, where you can.  

Get enough with Vitamin D 

Vitamin D is essential for our bone health. But it can be difficult to get enough of it during the winter months.  

That’s because our body creates vitamin D when our skin is in direct sunlight outdoors. It’s also found in a small number of foods, such as red meat, egg yolks, and oily fish (such as salmon).  

Typically, we don’t make enough vitamin D from sunlight during the winter months, so the NHS recommends that everyone should take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during autumn and winter. 

Stay active 

Charles in swimming poolUnsurprisingly, we all tend to move less during winter. But staying active is vital if you have arthritis. 

That’s because physical activity can help to ease pain, increase strength and flexibility, and boost your energy levels. Plus, it’ll help improve your circulation and keep you warmer.  

Don’t want to brave the chilly weather? You could try a low-impact exercise class, such as aqua aerobics, swimming, yoga or Tai Chi. Or you could do some gentle exercises from the comfort of your own home. If you need some extra motivation, you could even try exercising with a friend.  

Unsure where to start? We have lots of resources to help you find the right exercise routine for you. You can: 

How exercise has helped Mel, who lives with arthritis

We’re here for you 

If you need advice or support, remember you can: