Winter Joint Pain and How to Manage it.

Why is it that every winter more patients present to the Practice with joint pain. What is it that ignites pain that comes out of nowhere in colder months?

Like the sharp pain when getting out of bed that makes you limp.

The ache that settles into your hips and ankles even when you are just sitting around. Is it the weather, more contact sport or is it age?

Questions, questions …

There is evidence to say that we feel the cold in our joints.

A study in the US found that 68% of participants reported that the cold increased joint pain. A 2007 study also in the US found that every 10° drop in temperature corresponded with an incremental increase in arthritic pain. 

68% of participants reported
increased joint pain

during colder temperatures

The more controversial question is, why do we feel joint pain in the colder months?

In my 2018 blog

 “Arthritis and Winter: Whether the weather causes pain in arthritic joints” I found several theories on how weather triggers osteoarthritic joint pain.

Trigger 1: The barometric effect

The joints in our body contain fluid (Synovial fluid) which acts as a lubricant to reduce friction between bone surfaces.

In wintery conditions, a change in the barometric pressure leads to our internal tissue expanding, putting pressure on the nerve receptors causing pain. The synovial fluid also thickens which can make for stiffer joints.

Trigger 2: Hibernation

Pretty much how this sounds – in colder stormy weather people are less inclined to exercise.

The equation you have is:

Less movement → less joint lubrication promoting increased joint stiffness → leads to cartilage breakdown with associated pain and arthritis.

Similarly in the soft tissue surrounding the joint,

Muscles, tendons, ligaments and capsules become weaker, thicker and shorter → increase in stiffness → pain and arthritis.

Trigger 3: Mind, Body Connection

Studies show that for some there is psychology behind this. In warm weather you feel energised and healthy. The sun is more positive, and the winter is more dreary.

Trigger 4: Direct Cold Effect

Cold weather activates our sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight mechanism which controls the dilation and constriction of our blood vessels. In cold weather the body conserves heat by sending more blood to our vital organs and therefore constricts blood to our limbs leading to stiffness and pain.

Cold Weather Can Expose Underlying Issues

That’s right … the cold weather happens to be a really good mechanism of activating triggers that assumes underlying joint problems – past or present. Sometimes we can reinjure an old sporting injury without warning. For some, it’s a problem with overuse.

Either way, the pain can be so acute that it sets off that stabbing or burning sensation which for some, can become unbearable.

The most common causes of joint pain include:

  1. Strains and Sprains
  2. Fractures, present or past
  3. Cartilage damage, including tears
  4. Bursitis
  5. Osteo and Rheumatoid arthritis

The good news is, these can be managed effectively. It’s important you get onto it sooner rather than later.

If untreated, associated problems from your joints can become more noticeable.

The most common can include:

  • Tendinopathy: Tendons join muscle to bone/joints and if the joints stiffen/become painful they can shorten, thicken, inflame and become painful.
  • Nerve Pain: If joints become stiff particularly in the spine they can squeeze/pressure nerves which causes referred pain such as sciatica.
  • Compensatory Pain: I call this “The domino effect “ where pain in a joint on one side of the body leads to a change in biomechanics. (The way the body moves and positions itself ). A common occurrence is when limping due to knee pain on one side of the body leads to overcompensation and increased weight bearing on the other side which increases the chance of knee , hip or ankle joint pain.

5 Tips To Protect Your Joints  

Try these tips to help.

Tip 1. Keep warm and layer up

Nice woolie socks, warm clothing, hot packs and the ubiquitous
hot coffee.  

Tip 2. Stay active and exercise

Warm up those muscles and build your bone strength. With appropriate exercise, even a dab of heat cream for stiff joints before exercising may prevent injury. Indoor exercise on very cold days helps.

Tip 3. Stretch

Don’t forget the appropriate warm-up and cool-down exercises and stretches to loosen those joints. We can guide you on the appropriate warm-up and cool-down exercise programs for your needs.

Tip 4. Compression Garments

Compression treatment can reduce swelling, increase mobility, improve circulation and increase heat to the joints and muscles.

Tip 5. Keep Moving

When going for a run outside, try to keep moving when you break/rest. Instead of being stationery, walk or jog on the spot. This prevents your muscles from cooling down and stiffening.


Even if you are the fittest person, even if you love moving, even if you love winter, joint aches and pains can occur out of nowhere – but they can also be resolved.

Following the above tips is a great way to give your body and joints
a head start in preparation for the colder months.

If you’re unlucky and find yourself with onset joint pain, don’t worry. Elizabeth Street Sports and Spinal Physiotherapy is here to help you with individualised exercise programs, management and treatment of underlying conditions.

“If life is slowing you down, let us help you to move a little faster.”

To make an appointment call on 9670 3996 or BOOK ONLINE today!