As the seasons change, your rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may change too. It’s different for everyone, but some people with RA notice that as the seasons shift, so do their symptoms.
Studies suggest autumn may be the sweet spot for RA while winter and spring are the most challenging. A recent study found that humidity made pain worse, especially in colder weather. Another study linked sunny, dry days to less pain and joint swelling.
Why It Happens
Experts aren’t sure why seasonal changes affect RA, but it may be linked to shifts in barometric pressure.
Changes in barometric pressure can make your tendons, muscles, and scar tissue expand or contract, which may lead to pain. When it rains or snows, there’s a drop in barometric pressure, which may also thicken the fluid in your joints. That can lead to stiffness and make you more sensitive to pain.
Mood may also play a role. Warm, sunny days can boost your spirits. Your mind and body are linked, so you may also feel better physically.
What to Do
You don’t have to move to a different climate. With a few easy changes, you can manage seasonal changes better.
Being active is a proven way to ease your RA pain, keep stiffness at bay, and improve your flexibility and range of motion. It also helps you build muscle and bone strength, which eases pressure on your joints and prevents injury. Plus it may improve your mood and lessen fatigue.
Try joint-friendly activities like walking, biking, water aerobics, and dancing. Do gentle stretches before you exercise.
Don’t let bad weather get in your way. You may be tempted to curl up on the couch, but staying active is key. Lack of exercise can make your RA symptoms worse.
On cold or damp days, shift to indoor activities. Walk around your local shopping mall. Find a gym with an indoor pool. Try yoga or aerobics classes.
Move more all day
Keep your joints loose with small steps throughout the day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Get moving with household chores like vacuuming. Listen to music and dance. Do gentle stretches or easy exercises as you watch TV.
Warmth offsets stiffness. To say warm on colder days, protect your hands, feet, and head, where your body heat escapes more easily.
To stay warm, wear:
- A hat
- A scarf
- Gloves or mittens
- Warm socks
- Waterproof boots
- Loose layers that can trap your body heat
On hot days, stay indoors. Use air conditioning to offset the heat and humidity. Wear loose-fitting layers. Choose natural fabrics like cotton, linen, and silk. They help sweat evaporate from your body to keep you cool.
Boost your mood
Your mood may play a role in how you feel. Dark, gloomy days can make you feel sad and low-energy. When bad weather leads to a bad mood, your pain may feel worse.
If you have clinical depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that comes in late fall or early winter and goes away when spring and summer come, it’s even more challenging.
Do things to improve your mood. Work out. Take a walk. Eat well. Be social. Call a friend. Get involved in your community. Have a positive attitude.
Get help if you need it. Talk to your doctor if you have feelings of unhappiness, stress, or anxiety.
Make good lifestyle choices
Staying healthy may ward off problems. Eat well. Choose healthy foods. Get enough sleep. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Limit caffeine and alcohol, which can dehydrate you.
Penn Medicine: “Grandma’s Joints Hurts ... Rain Is Coming: How Weather and Arthritis Are Connected.”
BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders: “Influence of seasonal changes on disease activity and distribution of affected joints in rheumatoid arthritis,” “Seasonal variations in fatigue in persons with rheumatoid arthritis: a longitudinal study.”
Rheumatology: “What’s in season for rheumatoid arthritis patients? Seasonal fluctuations in disease activity.”
Arthritis Foundation: “Weather and Arthritis Pain.”
OrthoArizona: “Does heat and humidity make joint pain worse?”
University of Chicago Medicine: “It's cold outside! Do your joints hurt?”
Arthritis & Osteoporosis Western Australia: “Winter and Arthritis.”
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Boosting Your Mood.”