Helpful Hints for Winter with Arthritis

Winter is usually a difficult time for people with arthritis. These ideas might offer some help for the long cold months ahead.

Arthritis is common across the world. It is the greatest cause of pain and disability, and winter is a particularly difficult season for many people with this condition. Some ideas to help those in countries on the brink of winter.

Keep Moving. Keep Warm. Keep yourself Cheerful.

Move it or Lose it (Pushing 50 is not exercise enough)

Start in the bed, under the covers, while you are still snug and warm. Gently move and stretch all joints, one by one. Then in the shower/bath – move gently, stretch and sway while under/in hot water. If in a shower focus the water spray onto the painful area and gently move the joint. Moist heat is better than dry heat for pain. Once out of bath or shower, dry yourself with a warm towel and have all your clothes beside a heater, including your shoes, so that everything you put on is warm.

Before you sit down to breakfast sway gently to music (excellent if pain is bad). This loosens all your muscles and joints and improves pain and stiffness before the day starts. Heat and movement loosens stiff joints. During the day, move about as often as possible.

If you are in pain, start with one minute an hour of gentle stretching exercises and build up slowly. It’s important to set goals that are achievable and keep moving forward. If the pain is really bad, start the exercises in a warm water pool. Exercise doesn’t have to be madly leaping around in tights, puffing, panting and sweating. Exercise is moving, that’s all. It’s important always to warm up before you exercise, and after exercise drink plenty of water and keep moving slowly while you cool down. This will prevent stiffness and soreness.

Tai Chi is excellent for all arthritis. It reduces stiffness and pain, increases mobility and helps with balance. Gentle yoga lengthens and strengthens muscles.

If it’s pouring with rain or freezing cold, drive to a large shopping centre and walk around where it’s warm, dry and interesting. (You don’t have to buy anything)

If it’s too cold, too wet, too dark, too lonely or too scary to go outside? Put on a radio or a CD and dance about the room. Any movement is good, even just marching on the spot for thirty seconds every couple of hours is useful.
Keep Warm

Heat is a very effective therapy for arthritispain, especially during the cold winter months. Hot showers/baths in the morning loosens up all the joints, and in the evening a good soak in a hot bath relieves pain and helps with relaxation. Warm water pools and spas are helpful, if you are lucky enough to have access to them, but they need to be warm as cold water can cause muscle spasm. Moist heat seems more effective than dry heat at easing pain, but all heat can help.

Sleeping bags are ideal for children with arthritis because they provide a steady uniform heat throughout the night and natural relief from early morning pain/stiffness.

Extra warmth and protection can be found for painful elbows/knees by cutting the feet out of large-size, thick woollen sox and slipping the rest over the joint.

A cheap and easy foot bath can be made using a large plastic dish with a layer of marbles, adding warm water and a handful of Radox or other herbal bath soak. Roll the bare feet back and forth across the marbles. This acts like reflexology, relaxes, helps with pain and balance and feels wonderful.

Hand baths also help to relax and temporarily relieve pain. Soaking hands in warm water first thing in the morning will loosen stiffness, a soak during the day helps with pain, and at night will help with relaxation and sleep.

When using a coffee or tea mug, circle both hands around the mug rather than the fingers through the handle. This warms the hands, easing pain and is less strain on painful fingers.

People with arthritis need as much winter sun as possible. Sitting in the sun eases aches and pains and makes us feel good. Vitamin D from sunlight is necessary for bone health, prevents depression and protects our overall health and immunity. Vitamin D comes from sun direct on bare skin (not through clothing, glass, or sunscreen). In very cold areas with little sunlight over winter, people may need to take vitamin D supplements for several months. It is important to discuss this with your doctor.

Other forms of heat that have proved useful in arthritis are

hot water bags, heat packs/pads/electric blankets
flannelette sheets (fitted ones easier on painful hands)
doonas and comforters (lighter on joints than blankets)
woollen underlays, bedsocks
sleeping on doona or sheepskin
warm towels, clothes and shoes
scarves/gloves/coats/hats, when outside
Ugg boots
Avoid draughts
Avoid getting wet
Massage sore joints and muscles with warm oil
Warm foods – stir-fries, soups, casseroles, etc. Add ginger, turmeric, chili.

Keep Yourself Cheerful

Winter is cold but sometimes sunny. Enjoy it. Get out of the house, socialise, be cheerful. Life is precious. Visit friends, meet for coffees, walks and gossip sessions. Join a group. Curl up by the fire on cold winter nights with a good book and a glass of red. Humour/laughter can help with pain, so find five things to laugh at everyday.

….. and remember spring is not too far away!

For help with all types of arthritis, visit