Cold Weather Tips for RA

by Cathy Kramer Patient Advocate

Twenty years ago, my family and I moved to Illinois. As I debated whether to purchase snow boots for my children, a friend laughed and said: “You are in Illinois now. There is always snow. Prepare yourself.” She was right. And as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) became a part of my life a few years later, her message of “prepare yourself” stayed with me. When cold weather hits an area, those of us with RA need to be ready. I have some tips for you on how to prepare.

Colorful hats, gloves, and scarves for sale.
iStock

Wear Sufficient Clothing

First thing: Begin accumulating the right clothing. While you may once have run to the store with a light jacket and no hat or gloves, this needs to change. A side effect that many with RA experience is Raynaud’s disease which causes small arteries in the hands and feet to constrict. It can decrease the blood supply, causing digits to look like hotdogs, and to turn them blue or white from the cold, then red upon rewarming. So do your best to keep your hands and feet at a comfortable temp.

Woman outside holding mug and wearing winter gloves
iStock

Stay Warm, but Don't Overdo It

Wear layers. Just as we don’t want to be too cold, some experience joints that swell when overheated. Layering your clothing allows you to stay warm when needed, but to cool down just as well. A hat and gloves accompany me each time I am outside, even if it is a quick run to the store. Be prepared. Always keep a set of gloves or mittens with you. Personally, I keep a set in the car, in every coat I regularly wear, and in my purse.

Doggie hot water bottle helping keep feet warm.
iStock

Use What You’ve Got

I make a conscious effort to always stay as warm as possible when I am outside, but I have had times when I have still felt an episode of Raynaud’s hitting me. Out of desperation, I let what others think about me fall to the wayside. I slip my hands out of my gloves and right onto my stomach. Boy! This is about the only time I am happy to have belly fat. It warms the tips of my fingers within seconds.

Warm winter boots.
iStock

Wear Proper Shoes

While we always want to look fashionable, be sure to take care of your feet and balance first. Wear sturdy shoes or boots with good traction that will prevent falls on icy sidewalks. Sore joints may already make you less graceful, so do everything you can to stay upright. If needed, change into something more fitting for the office once you are out of the cold.

Comfortable plush bed.
iStock

Create a Cozy Sleeping Area

Have you ever woken up feeling cold and thought: “I will get another blanket soon?” Then you wake up again, and your joints are screaming out at you for not taking care of them earlier? Like everything else with cold weather, plan ahead. Layer yourself. If desired, purchased a heated blanket. Do whatever is necessary to keep those joints warm.

Woman taking a bath
iStock

Take a Warm Bath

For many of us, the cold weather acts as an enemy to our joints. Knowing that, be kind to your body. Plan time during the day to escape to a warm bath, if your joints allow you to sink down into a tub. Otherwise, a warm shower can also do wonders for a painful body. Give yourself the luxury, if you must call it that, to show your joints some kindness during this cold time of the year.

Roasted vegetables close up.
iStock

Eat Well and Provide Down Time

As always, keep your body nourished. Cold weather may make you more susceptible to the cold and flu so do everything you can to stay healthy. Choose foods that reduce inflammation yet boost your immune system. Perhaps it is a warm bowl of soup or chili. Eat comforting foods but keep them on the whole-foods side of things. Also, plan down time into your day. Knowing that cold weather affects your joints, don’t overdo things. Mark off time during your day to rest

Prescription medication.
iStock

Make Sure You Are Taking Your Medications

Cold weather and schedule changes often go hand-in-hand. The holidays, kids home from school, and other activities can disrupt our schedules and cause us to forget medications while we are on the run. Don’t forget to take whatever the doctor has ordered, making sure to also keep appointments for lab work and doctor visits. You are worth it.

Woman tracking her symptoms on a smartphone
iStock

Monitor Your Symptoms

Be sure to watch your symptoms. There are several phone apps that will help you monitor what is happening with your body. By keeping an eye out, we might see how things like cold weather, rain, snow, even stress are your triggers for a flare.

Mother sledding with sons during winter
iStock

Be Good to Yourself

Set yourself up to succeed this winter with appropriate clothes, hats, gloves, and shoes. Stay warm. Eat well. The winter months can offer fun nights with family, outdoor adventures, and getaway vacations. We cannot always count on RA to go along with our plans, but we can do all we can on our side of things to make sure we can participate in as much or as little as we would personally like to be involved in this winter.

Cathy Kramer
Meet Our Writer
Cathy Kramer

Cathy Kramer has been married longer than not and is a mom to two young adults plus an aging border collie. She splits her days/nights between two community colleges as an ESL/ABE instructor. She is a strong believer in gratitude and attempts to leave a smile everywhere she goes. Cathy shares her positive voice as an advocate in the rheumatoid arthritis (RA), chronic illness, and self-care communities. Her ongoing journey with RA can be found on her blog The Life and Adventures of Cateepoo. She often hangs out @cateepoo88 on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Cathy is also a Social Ambassador for the RAHealthCentral Facebook page: facebook.com/RAHealthCentral.