Does Cold Weather Affect Arthritis?

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If you have arthritis, you might find that your joint pain is worse in the winter months. Healthcare providers and people with arthritis agree that cold weather could make arthritis pain worse. But the research connecting arthritis and colder temperatures isn't clear.

While researchers believe a connection exists, they do not offer conclusive reasons how or why cold weather makes arthritis worse. Further, no research or evidence has found that cold weather can cause arthritis.

The article covers the connection between arthritis and cold weather and how to reduce arthritis pain in the winter months.

Person on couch feels arthritis pain in knee

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The term "arthritis" refers to over 100 conditions that cause joint pain. Arthritis can affect anyone of any age, race, or sex. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), arthritis affects an estimated 58.5 million U.S. adults.

The main symptoms of arthritis are swelling, tenderness, and stiffness of one or more joints. The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

OA is a wear-and-tear type of arthritis that causes cartilage (the tissue that covers the ends of bones where they form a joint) to break down. RA is a type of inflammatory arthritis in which the immune system malfunctions and attacks healthy tissues, mainly the linings of the joints.

Treatments for arthritic conditions will vary depending on the type of arthritis you have. Treatment goals for arthritis are to improve symptoms, prevent joint damage, and help maintain a good quality of life.

Arthritis and Cold Weather

Researchers are not entirely sure why cold weather might exacerbate joint pain, but they have developed several theories.

The Relationship Is Causal

A 2015 study in the Journal of Rheumatology examined whether daily weather conditions, three-day average weather conditions, and weather changes could influence joint pain in older adults with OA.

That study suggested a causal relationship between joint pain and weather variables, although not from daily weather changes. Weather variables included temperature changes, precipitation, atmospheric pressure, relative humidity, and wind speed.

The authors conclude that information about OA joint pain and weather can help healthcare providers and people with OA better understand and manage pain fluctuations throughout the year.

Barometric Pressure Changes Mean Weather Sensitivity

Some researchers believe that decreases in barometric pressure can increase joint pain. Barometric pressure refers to the force or weight of air surrounding us. A fall in barometric pressure means worsening weather. This can iclude a heat change or an upcoming storm.

Sudden and harsh changes in barometric pressure have been found to affect human health. Researchers believe barometric pressure changes might be linked to various health conditions and symptoms, including headaches, muscle pain, the common cold, eczema (a chronic skin condition), and fatigue.

One theory about barometric pressure is that falling pressure can make muscles, tendons, and other tissues expand. There becomes a confined space in the body, especially in the joints, which leads to increased joint or muscle pain if you live with a muscular pain condition, like fibromyalgia.

A study reported in 2021 in the journal Rheumatology and Therapy aimed to understand if weather sensitivity was linked to clinical symptoms and structural abnormalities in people with knee OA. Nearly 58% of study participants said weather affected their knee-joint clinical symptoms.

Weather sensitivity was based on three questions, including whether warm or cold weather affects symptoms. In the article, the authors do not report which specific weather changes led to symptoms, just that weather changes increased symptoms.

A more thorough analysis showed that weather sensitivity contributed to knee pain, dysfunction, and overall clinical symptoms in knee OA. It was also linked to cartilage defects and bone marrow abnormalities.

A lowered barometric pressure usually exists before and during rainy weather. This pressure drop might cause already inflamed tissues to expand, leading to more joint pain. For example, a 2015 observational study found rheumatoid arthritis symptoms significantly improved on sunny, less humid days.

Females Are Especially Susceptible to Joint Pain in Winter

A 2022 study in the International Journal of Biometeorology found females with RA were more susceptible to extremely cold temperatures than males. The study participants were people of any sex with RA hospitalized in Anquig, China, from 2015 to 2019.

Most of those hospitalized were female. Hospitalizations were for people experiencing severe pain and needing pain-management injections who were also being treated for illnesses common in the winter, such as pneumonia. Hospitalizations increased when the temperatures were the coldest, and hospital admissions were lowest on days when the average temperature was 23.9 Fahrenheit.

Here, the study's authors suggest further exploring the connection between RA hospitalizations and temperature changes. By better understanding the connection, steps can be taken to manage and alleviate worsening symptoms that could potentially lead to joint damage and disease complications.

Genes Might Play a Part

The effect that winter weather has on the joints might be related to gene activity. One 2015 study in Nature Communications reports that genes that promote inflammation show increased activity in the winter months in some people. Further, the genes that suppress inflammation activate when the weather is warm.

This study involved more than 16,000 people and found that about 4,000 genes are affected by seasonal changes. According to the study's authors, these changes could explain why some inflammatory conditions (like rheumatoid arthritis) are aggravated in the winter and improve during the summer months.  

Vitamin D Deficiency

Many people with inflammatory arthritis, like RA, are deficient in vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency might worsen joint pain. It is also more common in the winter months due to limited daylight hours and people avoiding outdoor activities due to cold weather.

Low levels are linked to higher disease activity (more symptoms), including in people with RA. More pain could lead to the need for more corticosteroid use and additional conditions (comorbidities) considered complications of the disease, such as osteoporosis (bone weakening) and lung disease.

In one study, researchers suggested the need for vitamin D testing and supplementation for people with RA.

How Hot Weather Affects Arthritis

For some people, warmer, drier weather can mean a reprieve from their arthritis symptoms. For others, their arthritis can flare in the summer because of the heat and humidity. If you are more susceptible to swollen joints, you will have more joint pain during the summer months, which might be the case for people with RA.

Summer barometric pressure changes can also have an impact on arthritis. One 2014 report in the journal PLoS One found people with RA frequently report joint swelling that correlates with air pressure regardless of the season.

Reducing Arthritis Pain in the Winter

Winter weather does not have to make you miserable just because you have arthritis. You can do plenty to stay healthy and manage arthritis symptoms during the winter months.

Keep Moving

Exercise is one of the most important things people with arthritis can do to manage their symptoms.

Being physically active helps reduce joint pain, increase strength and flexibility, maintain joint function, and improve energy levels and mood. It can also delay the onset of arthritis-related disabilities and reduce your risk for other chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Adults with arthritis can participate in joint-friendly exercises, which are low impact and put less stress on the body to reduce the risk of injury. Biking, walking, and swimming are all joint-friendly exercises.

If you struggle to get out during the winter months due to ice, snow, or cold temperatures, try mall walking or exercising along with online videos or workout apps. Or, if it's in your budget and you have the time, consider getting a gym membership. A gym membership might give you access to a pool or low-impact exercise classes for yoga or tai chi.

If you are new to exercise or have concerns about being active because of arthritis, reach out to a healthcare provider. They can give you information on safely exercising with arthritis or refer you to a physical therapist who can help you to get started.

Stay Warm

Heat can be helpful in the winter months for dealing with stiff joints. It can boost blood flow and stimulate skin receptors to improve pain tolerance. Heat therapy might also relax your muscles and decrease spasms and stiffness.

You can gain the benefits of therapy in many ways. Examples include:

  • Taking a warm shower
  • Soaking in a warm bath
  • Using heating pads
  • Using an electric blanket
  • Using feet and hand warmers that can be slipped into your socks or gloves
  • Drinking warm beverages

Dress for the Weather

Dressing in thicker clothing can keep you warm, but it can be pretty uncomfortable, especially when you are hurting. Consider dressing in layers of lightweight clothing. This is a much better way to stay warm, and you can always remove clothing if you get too hot.

Layer up to protect your most sensitive and achy areas, including the hands, knees, and elbows.

Wear Compression Gloves

If you do not already own a pair, consider getting compression gloves. Most work well to trap heat and encourage blood flow.

Because they are fingerless, they are made for indoor wear, which means you can wear them at home, while sleeping, or even at work.

Get Your Vitamin D

During the winter months, it is essential to get enough vitamin D. For people with inflammatory arthritis, keeping your vitamin D at a normal level could cause less pain.

Everyone should get at least 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D daily. You can achieve this by eating vitamin D–rich foods or with supplements.

If you suspect your vitamin D is low, reach out to a healthcare provider about tested. Your provider might recommend supplements to get you back on track if your levels are low.

Improving Symptoms During the Summer Months

If you are someone whose arthritis worsens in hot and humid weather, you might consider better ways to manage symptoms as the weather warms up.

You can manage arthritis in the summer months by:

  • Staying hydrated because dehydration can increase the risk for an arthritis flare-up
  • Dressing comfortably in light clothing and wearing comfortable shoes while outdoors
  • Avoiding activities that put extra stress on joints and result in injury
  • Planning activities during the early morning hours or evening to avoid hot temperatures that could trigger a flare
  • Not overdoing activities to avoid triggering an arthritis flare
  • Exercising safely when it is hot outside to prevent injury and avoid getting overheated
  • Finding ways to stay cool by drinking plenty of cold beverages and staying in air-conditioned spaces, or making use of fans


Winter can be rough for people with arthritis—both inflammatory arthritis and osteoarthritis. For most, symptoms seem to worsen in the winter months. For a lucky few, winter is a reprieve from joint pain and swelling.

Despite much research, scientists have not been able to determine why cold weather exacerbates arthritis symptoms, but they have formed theories. These include barometric pressure changes, vitamin D deficiency, genes, and which groups of people might be more susceptible to weather sensitivity.

But winter weather doesn't have to make you miserable with arthritis. You can do plenty to stay healthy and warm and keep arthritis flares at bay.

A Word From Verywell

The winter months can bring about more cases of the flu, pneumonia, bronchitis, or the common cold. People with inflammatory arthritis and comorbidities related to arthritis are at a greater risk for infections.

You should stay away from people who are coughing, sneezing, or who appear under the weather. Avoid crowded places and make sure you and other family members are vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19. If you do get sick, take time away from work and other responsibilities to allow yourself to rest and recover.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What climate is best for arthritis?

    Warm, dry climates might allow some people with arthritis to feel better. But no specific climate will cure or completely eliminate arthritis symptoms.

  • What triggers arthritis?

    Your triggers will depend on the type of arthritis you have. Some factors that can trigger joint pain include overdoing an activity, stress, weather changes, diet, or weight gain.

  • How do you calm an arthritic flare up?

    If you experience an arthritis flare, you can relieve symptoms by taking an over-the-counter pain reliever, resting the affected joint, and using warm compresses for stiffness and cold packs for swelling.

    For an inflammatory arthritis flare that seems severe or lasts longer than a few days, reach out to a healthcare provider. They might be able to prescribe a corticosteroid to help bring down inflammation.

15 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Lana Barhum
Lana Barhum has been a freelance medical writer since 2009. She shares advice on living well with chronic disease.