Doctor examines patient's arm

With the holiday season underway, feelings of joy and happiness may be replaced with pain and stiffness for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) patients. The pain and inflammation from RA, can dampen your holiday spirit and get in the way of winter festivities. Symptoms such as pain, swelling, stiffness, and fatigue can increase in the winter. But luckily there are steps to alleviate these symptoms.

Illinois Bone & Joint Institute rheumatologist Dr. Ami Kothari, MD, explains why symptoms of RA feel worse in the winter. Dr. Kothari states that “one theory regarding why cold or damp weather causes joint pain is related to barometric pressure.”

Barometric pressure is the weight of air molecules pressing down on you. Cooler temperatures in winter cause air pressure to drop. The lower air pressure pushes less against the body which causes tissues to expand. “Drops in barometric pressure may cause tendons, muscles and the surrounding tissues to expand, leading to joint pain.”

According to Dr. Kothari, patients may reduce the risk of joint pain in the winter in the following ways:

  1. Dress in layers. The warmer you are, the better. Warmth helps to soothe stiff joints.
  2. Stay active! Even through the winter, regular exercise is important to increasing muscle and bone strength. Exercise helps to decrease stiffness and fatigue.
  3. Stretch. Stretching before and after activities helps to loosen the joints and reduces the risk of injury.
  4. Maintain a healthy weight. Not only should you exercise, but eating well to maintain a healthy weight will also help to alleviate inflammation. (For more information on reducing inflammation by maintaining a well balanced diet, please read our article on 5 Foods That Help Fight Inflammation & Arthritis Pain).
  5. Sleep. Get a good night’s rest. Lack of sleep can increase inflammation.

Keep in mind that the drop in air pressure may affect other types of arthritis. “Osteoarthritis may flare as well during the winter months,” Dr. Kothari says. “Following the steps above may help to alleviate the symptoms of RA during the winter.”

Dr. Kothari is board-certified in rheumatology and internal medicine. Her practice locations include the physician offices in Des Plaines and Morton Grove. To learn more about Dr. Kothari, please visit her profile.

Kelsey Koziel is a Marketing Communications and Relations Specialist at Illinois Bone & Joint Institute.

Ami Kothari, MD

Ami Kothari, MD