How to Prevent Arthritis Pain When It’s Cold

As colder weather sets in, try these strategies to reduce the effects of osteoarthritis on your joints.

Winter is coming. And if you suffer from osteoarthritis, or wearing down of the cushioning between bones, you may notice an increase in joint pain as the season approaches.

You’re not alone. According to the CDC, osteoarthritis affects more than 30 million adults in the United States, and one study found that 67 percent of participants with osteoarthritis perceived that their symptoms worsened during cold weather.

Although doctors aren’t exactly sure why chilly weather impacts arthritis-related pain, the Arthritis Foundation suggests that it could be related to changes in barometric pressure that cause tendons to expand and contract, as well as the fact that lower temperatures can change the amount of fluid that helps joints function.

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But winter doesn’t have to be a pain; here are some steps that might ease your aches as the mercury drops:

  • Wear gloves, socks and waterproof shoes to prevent your hands and feet from getting cold and wet. Bundling up in when it’s cold out, even if it’s only in the 50s, may reduce the shock to your joints, so don’t forget your hat and scarf to keep yourself insulated.
  • Remember your muscle strengthening exercises. Although it may seem counterintuitive, maintaining your exercise regimen is one of the most effective treatments for arthritis. So don’t be afraid to brave the outdoors (while properly dressed), or look for indoor exercise options.
  • Wear compression garments or thermal agents. With your doctor’s signoff, this specialty apparel can increase your circulation and help keep you warm. Using warm water baths or other heat sources after physical activity also can help soothe your joints.
  • Lose weight. The holidays can be an excuse to put on some “winter weight,” but reducing joint pressure that’s caused by your own body weight is another way to potentially reduce pain levels.
  • Try taking vitamin D, fish oil and/or calcium supplements. Although the jury’s still out on their overall effectiveness, these supplements may be able to help with your arthritis pain — and in any case, they are a low-cost and healthy addition to your diet, with your doctor’s approval.
  • Eat anti-inflammatory foods. You may allow yourself to indulge during Thanksgiving, but consider cutting back on unhealthy foods and increasing those that can reduce inflammation in the joints, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
  • Keep hydrated. In the colder weather, you might not drink as much water as you do during the summer, but it’s still important. Drinking water can help keep your joints lubricated, which in turn can help reduce your pain levels.
  • Try integrative medicinal treatments, such as massage or acupuncture. Some arthritis sufferers have found these to be helpful, but as always, check with your doctor before beginning treatment.
  • Use medicated creams or prescription treatments. If home remedies do not seem to be easing your joint pain, talk to your doctor about over-the-counter or prescription medications that may help your osteoarthritis symptoms through the winter season.

If these methods don’t significantly improve your arthritis pain, your doctor can help you develop a more comprehensive plan.

“There are a number of things we can do to help patients,” said Jay R. Lieberman, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “First, they can take anti-inflammatory medications, and we can prescribe physical therapy and a home exercise program — and that’s what we start out with.

“If further treatment is necessary, we may use cortisone injections and platelet rich plasma — and additionally, now there is some interest in using stem cell injections — to reduce inflammation,” added Dr. Lieberman, who also is a hip and knee joint replacement expert at the USC Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Keck Medicine of USC.

By Tina Donvito

If you suffer from arthritis, make an appointment with one of our orthopaedic specialists at Keck Medicine of USC. If you are in the Los Angeles area, schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting