Your Joints Hurt More In Winter: Here’s How To Prevent It

  • Publish Date: Dec 2 2018 12:27PM
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  • Updated Date: Dec 2 2018 12:28PM
Your Joints Hurt More In Winter: Here’s How To Prevent ItRepresentational Pic

Most of us would have heard friends or family say that they suffer from increased aches and pains in muscles and joints during cold, wet and unsettled weather, and some have personal experience of this. 

In the cold months that are now upon us, unlike the weather we have had from last couple of days, cold air brings with it lower barometric air pressure. This means gas expands when heated and contracts when cooled, so it lowers air temperature that causes the air to constrict the result is lower pressure. Well this is the same effect on your muscles, they constrict and tighten. Cold weather is linked to joint pain as people are less likely to work out when it’s chilly and damp. In colder weather, the body will conserve heat, and it will send more of the blood to the organs in the center of the body, like the heart or the lungs. So when that happens, the arms, legs, shoulders, knee joints, those blood vessels will constrict. Less blood flow makes those areas colder and stiffer, which can cause discomfort and pain.

We hunch ourselves up when we are cold, making muscles tighter and less mobile. When it’s sunny we have more exposure to vitamin D, which fortifies our bones and cartilage. It is seen that osteoarthritis patients with low levels of Vitamin D experience a worsening of their symptoms. The types of conditions and diseases which often said to be associated with ‘weather pain’ are indeed those which cause chronic pain in the muscles and joints. These include rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, phantom limb pain, scar pain, gout, trigeminal neuralgia, and non-specific low back pain.

Packing up and moving somewhere with a warm, sunny climate is not the answer, although it can help temporarily. When you move to a warmer climate, you feel better for the first few months, ‘but then the body acclimatises to that weather pattern and you start feeling just like you did before.’ So don’t pack your bags just yet, but there are actions that you can take to help minimize aches and pains through the winter months.

Crucially, on warm, sunny days, you are much more likely to exercise. The human body is built to move, and regular exercise is the best thing we can do for our general health. This is especially true for those who have arthritis and other painful conditions of the muscles and joints, though it is important to do a level of exercise that is appropriate for you. If you are already in pain, the idea of exercising may seem overwhelming, but gentle movement of any kind is better than no movement at all. 

Regular exercise will ease stiffness, strengthen muscles, improve circulation, help to control weight – putting less strain on joints, help maintain bone density, improve sleep and boost mood. All of which help to prevent pain. Keep Moving. Being a couch potato is bad news for your joints because exercise helps lubricate them to prevent pain. Too cold out? Bring your workout indoors and don’t overdo it! Choose low-impact aerobic moves that are easy on joints, such as walking and stretching, which enhance your range of motion. Lifting weights can also help because it builds joint-supporting muscles. After running, it is also important to make sure you incorporate a proper cool-down, followed up by stretching/foam rolling to decrease tightening in the muscles after exercising. And on rest days? Daily stretching and dressing in warm-enough clothes to avoid stiffness. If you get into a good stretching and warm-up routine and still notice pain in your joints, talk to an Orthopedist or Physiotherapist to make sure you’re not injured. It is important to remember that pain in your body is warning system, and you need to listen to it. Consistent joint pain could be the beginning signs of arthritis, and it is best to address it earlier. And of course, having joint pain or stiffness year-round—not just when the temps are low—is also a warning sign.


Tips for preventing aches and pains in winters:

Pain is a protective mechanism to stop you from causing further damage but pain doesn’t always mean you should quit exercising altogether.

Remaining active is vital. Keeping moving will help keep your joints mobile and your muscles strong, which can reduce pain and help you stay independent.

Don’t let cold weather put you off from normal physical activities – wrap up warm and wear appropriate footwear to prevent you from slipping if it’s wet or icy. 

If you’re new to exercise, don’t overdo it. Slowly build the amount you do. If you can’t manage 30 minutes, break it up into 10-minute. Make sure you warm up with a spot of fast walking or gentle jogging. 

Whatever you choose, remember good posture. Every activity can be done differently, so think about which positions put the least strain on your joints. 

Pain isn’t just a physical sensation, it can have emotional effects too – making us feel upset and tired. Some people may also feel low during the winter the winter months (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which can make pain feel worse. If you feel that you are not coping with pain or your mood, then reach out for help to your doctor. Taking physiotherapy sessions, amongst other options, can help.

The most common when we’re more sedentary is the first couple of movements when we get up out of a chair or when we’re getting out of bed, that tends to be when it’s the most sore. If your knee hurts, as you’ve been sitting on a chair for long, it’s a good idea to just move your knee. Bend your knee back and forth before you stand up. If you’re having trouble moving or gripping something with your hands, just open and close your hands a little bit before you actually go to grab something. It’s things like that, that will help our bodies get a little bit more active and less sore.

Arthritis, in general, can promote weakness because we tend to not move because we’re sore. As a physiotherapist what we recommend is to try to strengthen those arthritic or stiff joints. The more we strengthen it, the muscles will take on the brute force, energy, of work that has to be done by that joint in that area, so that the muscles tend to do more of the work than the rubbing of the two joint surfaces together.

You can be lazy, but you can still do this to keep your body in shape.

Let’s talk a little bit about our posture when we think about our tightness, our aches, and our soreness in our upper body from the winter. I just picture in my mind someone kind of hunched at a computer. Their shoulders are raised. Their chin is kind of jutting out a little bit and kind of scrunched up in there. That stiffness, that kind of clenching of our muscles when you’re cold and fatigued is a problem. What we talk about doing is just lengthening your whole body, kind of pretending someone’s got that string on top of your head, pulling your body up, getting your shoulders down, lengthening your back, pulling your belly muscles in, squeezing your shoulder blades a little bit together to try and maintain better posture. Moving your shoulders and doing some shoulder rolls to just kind of loosen that area up is good. Things like that will help. And then just staying active in general such as going for a walk when you have that ten minute break and spending time in the hallways, in the stairs in your house, moving around a little bit more and being less sedentary.



Sore muscles from the cold weather can make you tired and a bit lazy. You will need to have strong willpower to make yourself keep moving and exercising in the cold of winter. The effort is however worth it as the benefits gained in less pain overall are worth the effort.


Dr. Shadman Pandit - Consultant Physiotherapist