What Causes Cold Weather Joint Pain?

When temperatures drop, lots of people experience increased aches and pains in the joints. But why does winter weather equal achy joints, and what can you do to change the equation? Keep reading to find out.

Woman who is exercising pausing for knee joint pain

What Causes Cold Weather Joint Pain?

While many people observe increased joint stiffness and pain in cold and damp weather, scientists continue to study these effects, with different theories being advanced to explain this phenomenon.

One common explanation is that in colder temperatures, blood vessels in the arms and legs tend to constrict. While this decreased circulation to the extremities helps keep the core warm, it can also lead to pain and stiffness in the joints.

Another common theory is that as barometric pressure drops, the soft tissues surrounding the joints expand. This creates less space in the body, increasing pressure on the joints, especially for people who suffer from arthritis.

While joint pain is often caused by arthritis, this isn’t always the case. If you experience a sudden-onset of joint pain or consistent joint pain without explanation in any season, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.

Is My Cold Weather Joint Pain Arthritis?

Experiencing joint discomfort during cold weather isn’t necessarily a symptom of arthritis, and cold weather does not cause arthritis. However, in general, arthritis is one of the most common causes of joint pain, and symptoms can worsen in colder temperatures. People with chronic pain conditions can also experience cold-weather joint effects.

If you’re already experiencing joint pain due to arthritis, cold weather can increase joint stiffness and/or duration of joint pain. Keep in mind that different individuals experience cold weather effects differently, and that there are steps you can take to increase your joint mobility, flexibility, and comfort.

Man holding his knee with an x-ray view of his bones and joints

What Does RA Joint Pain Feel Like?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), is an autoimmune condition in which joint pain tends to feel like a throbbing, aching sensation. RA joint pain often feels worse in the morning and/or increases after periods of inactivity.

While cold weather does not cause RA, extreme weather can worsen achiness in the joints, including the joint stiffness often associated with RA.

How Can I Relieve My Cold Weather Joint Pain?

Keeping your joints healthy, in both cold and mild temperatures, can be part of creating a healthy lifestyle overall. Especially for people aged 40 and above, prioritizing joint health can be a key factor in staying active and mobile throughout the lifespan.

In order to keep your joints healthy in all weather, avoid common causes of joint pain — like lack of sleep and lack of stretching — while also practicing the good habits below to protect your joints from cold weather.

Prioritize Your Comfort

During winter, it’s important to take steps to stay warm and comfortable as much as you can. When you’re at home, keep the temperature comfortable, wear cozy clothing, and keep warm/electric blankets nearby when you are relaxing. For particularly painful areas, consider applying a heating pad to relax your muscles.

You don’t have to avoid outdoor activities, but make sure to stay warm when you step outside. Consider wearing wool base layers or thermals under your other clothes, and be sure to keep your extremities warm with thick socks, warm boots, and gloves/mittens for your hands.


One factor thought to increase joint pain in winter is lack of activity. While temperature, humidity, and pressure changes likely cause increased joint pain for many people, there is no question that exercise and movement supports joint health.

To keep your joints healthy, maintain regular physical activity, even when temperatures drop. Low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, or cycling can be especially helpful for people who experience joint pain.

Remember, stretching is also an integral part of keeping your joints healthy. Perform dynamic (movement-based) stretches before exercise, and static (longer-hold) stretches when you’ve finished your workout.

You can also prioritize joint health and flexibility by including activities like yoga in your regular routine. Keep in mind that working with the soft tissues that support joints might require a different approach than traditional stretching of the muscles – so consider different modalities like heat therapy, massage, and foam rolling to keep your joints healthy.

If your joints are feeling extra sensitive during colder months, you might opt for indoor exercises or low-impact outdoor exercises (such as walking instead of running) in order to stay warm as you stay active.

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration can cause increased joint pain, especially in people with arthritis and other chronic conditions. In warm weather, it is often easier to remember to drink water, but staying hydrated is just as important in colder temperatures. Staying hydrated also allows soft tissues like cartilage, which are mostly made of water, to continue to support the joints and joint mobility.

Opt for Joint-Healthy Foods

Some food choices, like extra salty, highly processed, and fried foods, can increase inflammation in the body, and therefore joint pain. Opting for foods that support joint health, like fatty fishes, leafy greens, and certain fruits and vegetables, can help decrease joint pain in cold-weather conditions.

While these general guidelines can be helpful, keep in mind that people can have dramatically different reactions to the same foods. Be mindful about your body’s response to various foods and avoid those that cause inflammation. Gluten, for instance, does not cause problems for many people, but if you suffer from even a minor gluten intolerance, this could lead to inflammation in the body, which will affect your joints.

Therefore, experiment with different foods to see how your body reacts. Favoring foods that do not increase inflammation will help keep your joints healthy and comfortable.

Can Vitamins Help My Cold Weather Joint Pain?

Joint pain in any weather can be a symptom of a vitamin D deficiency. Therefore, taking a daily dose of vitamin D could help alleviate your joint pain.

Another supplement that is recommended for reducing joint pain is fish oil. This is likely because of the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil, which can block some sources of inflammation.

As always, talk to your doctor before beginning a new vitamin/supplement regimen, especially if you take any prescription drugs that could potentially interact with a vitamin/supplement.

Schedule an Appointment Today

Are you consistently experiencing joint pain? The skilled team at Alex O can help you determine the cause of your symptoms, and the best next steps for your treatment, whether that’s a therapeutic approach or total joint replacement.

If your joint pain has become disabling, schedule an appointment today to begin your road to increased comfort, function, and mobility.