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How to Reduce the Pain of Winter Cold

Updated on September 19, 2015
My elbow brace, warm fuzzy socks, convertible gloves, and my heating pad all make my pain more tolerable in cold weather.
My elbow brace, warm fuzzy socks, convertible gloves, and my heating pad all make my pain more tolerable in cold weather.

Learn What You Can Do When Winter Cold Causes You Pain

There's a reason old people move south when they can afford to; cold hurts once you get old and quite often, even before you do. A few years ago, I liked getting out in the snow; I even enjoyed shoveling the walk in the wintertime. But since I've developed lupus, fibromyalgia, and arthritis cold winters are painful and miserable.

I can't afford to move south. So I've come up with some strategies to reduce the pain of winter cold.

I am not a medical professional, just a chronic pain sufferer whose symptoms get worse in the winter. Do not construe any of this advice as a substitute for advice from a medical professional. If you have uncontrolled pain, please see a doctor.


Does Winter Weather Actually Make Arthritis Pain Worse?

The short answer is yes. Even if you stay inside where it is warm, changes in barometric pressure can affect joint pain. The addition of cold increases this effect by making the fluids in your joints more viscous and just like cold oil in an automobile engine; viscous joint fluids don't provide good lubrication.

In my personal experience, bad weather not only affects arthritic pain, it also affects fibromyalgia and lupus related pain.

Exercising indoors
Exercising indoors | Source


You probably know by now that exercise plays a vital part in managing your pain. When it gets cold outside the knowledge that leaving your home will cause anything from minor to searing pain tends to put people off their usual warm-weather activities. The answer is simple; exercise inside. Don’t say that you can’t, that you have nowhere to exercise inside. Unless you are homeless, you should be able to exercise inside your home if you don’t have any better options. It won’t be as enjoyable as exercising outside but it is necessary and do-able.

I crank up some good music and pace around my apartment with a couple of cans of veggies in my hands when I can’t get out to exercise. Sure, it looks silly, but it keeps my pain levels down and exercise is good for general health. I admit I try to do it when my roommates are out or asleep but if they catch me at it, they are smart enough to know what I’m doing. I also do sit-ups, push-ups, and leg lifts in my bedroom. If none of that has any appeal at all, I can always do some heavy cleaning. You’d be surprised how much of a workout vacuuming until you get no dust in the canister at all or scrubbing the shower from top to bottom can be.

If my pain levels are low enough to brave the cold between my apartment and the complex clubhouse a few blocks away, I take advantage of the pool, hot tub, exercise equipment, and hot tub there. Yes, I said hot tub twice! There’s no reason you can’t soak out your aches and pains and relax in hot water if it’s available. I do so both before and after my workout, especially if I get a bit chilled in the pool as my body’s temperature controls are a bit out of whack.

If you don’t have a clubhouse to get indoor exercise in, you may be able to go mall-walking or simply hike around the store for some extra time when you go shopping for groceries or what-have-you.

Warm Socks and Slippers

Even if your feet don't feel painfully cold, keeping them warm will help keep the rest of you warm and will keep the joints and muscles in your feet warm and more flexible which can mean a lot less pain in the long run.

Cozy Socks and Slippers Keep Cold at Bay

I love the combination of super soft microfiber socks and cushiony memory foam slippers. I wish they had had these kinds of socks and slippers years ago when I had a more than full time standing job as a florist. It would have been nice to slip them on my feet on breaks and lunches and when I came home in the evening to soothe my sore feet.

Remedy Memory Medium Foam Slippers
Remedy Memory Medium Foam Slippers
Memory foam in slippers is a wonderful thing. They don't just keep feet warm they also cradle them in cloud-like comfort.
Vitamin D capsules
Vitamin D capsules | Source

Vitamin D

Many human beings in areas that undergo periods of low light frequently experience mild to severe vitamin D deficiencies. Use of anticonvulsants and other medications can also cause vitamin D deficiencies. Vitamin D supplementation has been linked to better pain control in people who live with chronic pain. A vitamin D supplement may also help to reduce your winter aches and pains all on its own. Ask your doctor for more information.

Sardines provide a good source of omega 3 fatty acids
Sardines provide a good source of omega 3 fatty acids | Source

Fish Oil or Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements

Fish oil supplements have proven useful in protecting heart health and in lowering overall inflammation. Check with your doctor before supplementing with fish oil. Adding fish oil or Omega-3 fatty acids through your diet, however, is something you can and should do on your own. This is as simple as adding a few nuts, fish, or flaxseed to your diet.

Omega Three and Fish Oil Supplements Are Readily Available in Most Areas

You should be able to find Omega 3 fatty acid supplements or fish oil capsules at your grocery store or pharmacy. If not, they can be purchased online.

Nature's Bounty Fish Oil, 1400mg, 980mg of Omega-3, 39 Softgels
Nature's Bounty Fish Oil, 1400mg, 980mg of Omega-3, 39 Softgels
I've found this brand to be economical and easy to swallow. I also get the Aldi store brand fish oil softgels which are even cheaper.

NSAIDS or Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Pain relievers such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin reduce inflammation as well as providing pain relief. Check with your doctor before starting a regimen of any of them because it can really be worth the bother. I’ve been put on 800mg of ibuprofen three times a day and, while it does little for pain directly, it seems to prevent quite a bit of pain from occurring.

At first, I was a little skeptical but after a few days of use, I began to really feel the difference. Even if you are on pain medications (I’m also on narcotic pain relievers) anti-inflammatory medications can be helpful. In my case, they have been very helpful, particularly with preventing arthritis pain. I’ve also noticed that since I’ve started taking them my lupus rash, when I get it, seems milder and less inflamed.

I must take my ibuprofen with food or a glass of milk. It didn’t bother me for the first few days but within a week I started to get a feeling sort of like heartburn and my stomach started to get tender and touchy. I simply schedule my ibuprofen doses to coincide with meals or snacks and that issue disappeared.

Dressing for Outside

Make sure all of your joints are well-insulated and that your coat completely covers your back. Cold air seeping onto your lower back and hips can set off unpleasant aches and pains due to muscle tension caused by cold discomfort or cold aggravated arthritis. Coverage is the key.

Dress in layers of fabric that wick away moisture and do not allow your layers of socks or your shoes or boots to bind your feet too tightly. That cuts off circulation and can make your problems worse rather than better.

Fingerless Gloves

While bare hands may get painfully stiff and cold it can be difficult to perform normal activities wearing full-on gloves or mittens. Fingerless gloves can provide a compromise you can live with, making it possible to do things like typing and performing household chores while keeping your hands warm. Fingerless gloves that are a bit longer and cover wrists are ideal for this purpose.

Inexpensive Fingerless Gloves Work Just Fine

You don't need to get the most expensive fingerless gloves out there. Cheap ones work fine. You can even modify a pair of dollar store stretch gloves by cutting the fingertips off.

Leg Warmers

Yep, I know these things are out of style but looking a little silly is a small price for many when it comes to pain relief. The reason I suggest leg warmers rather than long underwear worn under clothing or sweatpants worn over clothing is because what is warm enough for your knees and ankles may be sweltering for the rest of your legs and your bum. You don't need to wear them scrunched down around your ankles, unless, of course, it's your ankles that get extra painful in the cold, but you can pull them up over your knees until they are smooth and they aren't likely to even show under average trousers or jeans.

Elbow and Knee Supports or Braces

You probably don't need any extra support or bracing on your elbows or knees but you probably need some extra warmth. These little tubes stretch and stay in place and don't show through clothing all that much. Again, I suggest fabric or neoprene elbow or knee braces because wearing a sweater, hoodie, sweatshirt, or long underwear that is thick all over may leave you swimming in sweat and looking lumpy.

I use neoprene braces over the worst knee and elbow and they keep them toasty warm and comfortable as neoprene is great at retaining heat. The titanium screw just under the skin below my knee sends pain shooting into my knee when the skin gets chilled but, in my experience, wearing the neoprene sleeve prevents that effect even outside in temperatures as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Neoprene Keeps Painful Joints Toasty

In my experience, nothing keeps in heat quite like neoprene. I wash mine in baking soda water to remove sweat odors.

Body Glove 90190 Breathable Neoprene 10-Inch Knee Support, Black, Medium
Body Glove 90190 Breathable Neoprene 10-Inch Knee Support, Black, Medium
Choose neoprene braces without the hole in the center of the knee if you are using them to keep your knees warm.

Heating Pads

A heating pad applied to your winter achy spots can provide serious cold-weather pain relief. I have a Sunbeam heating pad that is washable, of course the cords must be removed to wash it and it must not be put in the dryer. Be cautious when using a heating pad on areas with numbness or when you are sleepy because you may not notice when the heating pad gets too warm. Keep cats, dogs, other small animals, and small children off of heating pads because their smaller body sizes make them vulnerable to quick overheating or burning.

Do not sit, stand, or lay on top of heating pads as they have wires and heating elements inside them that you don’t want to damage.

Electric Blankets

Use caution when selecting electric blankets. I strongly recommend going with the premium, well-known brands when buying an electric blanket. I’ve had some hair-raising experiences involving cheap electric blankets and I wouldn’t want anyone else to do the same. One electric blanket began smoking a few inches from where the plug went into the blanket in the middle of the night. Luckily, almost everything makes me sneeze so my sneezing woke me up before anything worse happened. Another heated unevenly and got far too hot for safety’s sake in some spots. My roommate had a cheap electric blanket that smelled like burning electrical wires before it began to smoke.

Even with well-made, quality electric blankets one should never spill on them or sit or lay on top of them. They have heating elements and wires inside them that you don’t want to crack or break. I’ve had good luck with Sunbeam electric blankets and I recommend them wholeheartedly.

© 2013 Kylyssa Shay


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