How to Weather the Winter With Psoriatic Arthritis

by Claire Gillespie Health Writer

According to a recent survey by the National Psoriasis Foundation, 80 percent of people with psoriatic arthritis said their disease is affected by the season and that it is the worst during winter. Psoriatic arthritis is an inflammatory condition which can be aggravated by cold weather, physical or emotional stress, and airborne cold and flu viruses. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to get through the winter months with psoriatic arthritis.

Yoga classes to stay active.

Stay active

Staying active during winter can be difficult when there are fewer daylight hours and colder temperatures. But regular, gentle exercise can help relieve joint stiffness and pain, and physical activity also releases endorphins, which can help ease stress and boost mood. Make time for regular workouts in a temperature-controlled, indoor environment; a yoga class, a walk in the mall, or an online workout in your living room are all good options.

Heat pad

Use warm compresses

Heating pads can help relieve minor aches and pains and keep you comfortable when the temperature drops. Look for heat therapy products that use moist heat, which is quickly absorbed by the body and less likely to dry out your skin. Your local drugstore is likely to have various options, such as heat pads that can be warmed in the microwave, disposable heat patches that can retain heat for hours, and electric compresses with timers.

Woman moisturizing legs

Moisturize frequently

Spending more time indoors during winter can make psoriatic arthritis symptoms worse because the forced, dry air from artificial heating systems dry out the skin. Help soothe inflamed, itchy skin with frequent moisturizing. The thicker the product you use, the more moisture it will hold in. Dermatologists recommend the brands Cetaphil, CeraVe, and Eucerin. A humidifier can also help to alleviate dry, itchy skin.

Dressed for cold, walking dog on winter day.

Dress warmly

Exposure to cold air can trigger joint pain because the joints swell and fluid within them increases. This doesn’t mean you have to stay indoors all winter — exercise is important, remember — but it does make dressing warmly a priority. You lose body heat from any part of the body that’s exposed to the cold air, so don’t forget a hat, scarf, and gloves.

Woman getting flu vaccine.

Get vaccinated

The flu vaccine is generally safe for people with psoriatic arthritis, but if you treat the disease with biologics, you need to take extra precautions. The National Psoriasis Foundation advises opting for only inactivated vaccines, which are given as a shot instead of the usual nasal spray. Additional daily health precautions include avoiding people who are sick, washing your hands frequently, and avoiding touching the eyes, nose, and mouth. Check with your doctor before getting any vaccine.

Health salmon salad

Eat healthy

It’s easy to seek rich comfort foods during the wonter months, but a healthy diet will help boost your immune system to fight off infection, and avoid weight gain, which can make joint pain and swelling worse. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and proteins, and keep saturated fats to a minimum. Fish oil, found in fatty fish like salmon, can help fight inflammation. Try to limit alcohol, as it doesn’t mix well with some psoriasis medications.

Woman sleeping in.

Get plenty of sleep

Lack of sleep can weaken the immune system. A study found that people who get six hours of sleep or less per night are more likely to catch a cold than those who sleep for seven hours or more per night. The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night for adults.

Vitamin supplements spilling out of bottle.

Boost vitamin D levels

Many people see psoriasis flares worsen during winter due to the decreased availability of natural UV light. Scientists believe that UV light slows down the rapid growth of skin cells that occurs with psoriasis. UV light gives us vitamin D, and research has found that people with psoriatic arthritis often have low levels of this vitamin. The National Psoriasis Foundation suggests talking to your doctor about the benefits of vitamin D supplements.

Looking for help

Ask for help

Entertaining, shopping, traveling, and spending extended periods with family during the holidays can all increase stress levels, and any kind of stress can trigger psoriatic arthritis symptoms. Help control your stress levels by anticipating stress, planning ahead, organizing help in advance, and learning to say “no” if you feel you can’t cope.

Claire Gillespie
Meet Our Writer
Claire Gillespie

Claire Gillespie writes about mental health, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis and IBS for HealthCentral. She is a passionate about mental health awareness, and also writes about health and wellness for other sites, including Vice, SELF, Zocdoc, Reader’s Digest, and Healthline. You can follow her on Twitter @southpawclaire.