Why Do My Joints Hurt More In The Autumn And Winter?

24 October 2022

If your joints hurt more with falling temperatures, you are not alone. Millions of people with joint disorders, especially arthritis, report worsening pain during the autumn and especially in winter.

In fact, in one study over 70% of participants with painful joint/bone disorders said their symptoms worsened with changes in humidity and temperature. (1)

While you may experience pain in any joint, the most commonly affected parts are the knees, fingers, and back.

Why Can The Winter Be Harsh On Your Joints?

No definitive explanation for the association between low temperatures and joint pain exists.

However experts believe that the following factors may contribute to winter-associated joint pain.

Increased viscosity of synovial fluid

Synovial fluid is a liquid which covers the surfaces of joints and provides lubrication. S ynovial fluid reduces friction between your joints when you move . However, the fluid thickens when the temperature drops during the winter which can impair movement making us feel stiff and the joints painful.

Changes in atmospheric pressure

As winter approaches, the atmospheric pressure drops. This fall in pressure can cause your muscles and surrounding tissues to expand, squeezing your joints.

Low vitamin D levels

It is possible that low vitamin D levels—due to fewer daylight hours and reduced outdoor activities—can worsen joint pain. Several studies have noted a link between vitamin D deficiency and painful joint and muscle conditions.

What You Can Do
Consider the following tips to reduce your risk of joint pain during colder temperatures.

Stay warm!

Staying warm is the simplest thing you can do to support your joints. Rising cost of heating may not be helpful, but layer up. Tights or long johns can really help prevent legs and knees from getting cold, keeping blood flow and maintaining heat in the joints. Hands get painful when blood flow moves away from the extremities to preserve heat and so wearing gloves, even inside the house can help your hands.

Exercise (no groans please!)

Simple physical activity helps blood to circulate and joints to move freely. Moving the joints helps to stimulate the movement of synovial fluid across the surfaces of the joint. It can be painful to move at first but moving the joints is so important to keep them healthy, especially as temperatures drop.

Exercise has the added benefit of helping to maintain bone density and give muscle strength which will support your joints. Furthermore, a bit of exercise can lift your mood by releasing endorphins or “happy” hormones.

The NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week and strength exercises working all the major muscles on at least 2 days/week. This can seem daunting but start with whatever you can manage. If your joints are painful, then do discuss with your GP or physiotherapist.

Stretch to improve flexibility

Stretching your joints after you wake up improves circulation and keeps your muscles and joints warm. Start with simple movements, such as wrist and ankle rolls, knee bends, and thumb and hand stretch.

You can even limber up in bed before you load your joints. Just move all of your joints through a comfortable range of motion. Think that you are ensuring that the synovial fluid is moving around your joints, this should stop you feeling so stuff when you get up.

Keeping our joints moving is really important.

Eat a balanced diet

Omega-3 fatty acids, such as oily fish, nuts, and seeds, can help lower inflammation. Also, limit sugar and refined carbs. Ensure you are getting vitamin D-rich foods in your diet. Oily fish such as salmon and mackerel are good sources of vitamin D, as are egg yolks. Non-vegetarians may eat beef liver as a source of vitamin D and some cereals are also fortified with vitamin D.

During the winter you can also take supplements to ensure you have adequate vitamin D.

  1. NG, J., SCOTT, D., TANEJA, A., GOW, P. and GOSAI, A. (2004), Weather changes and pain in rheumatology patients. APLAR Journal of Rheumatology, 7: 204-206. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1479-8077.2004.00099.x
  2. Wu Z, Malihi Z, Stewart AW, Lawes CM, Scragg R. The association between vitamin D concentration and pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Public Health Nutr. 2018 Aug;21(11):2022-2037. doi: 10.1017/S1368980018000551. Epub 2018 Mar 21. PMID: 29559013.