Why Your Joints Ache in the Cold and What You Can Do About It

Much like outer-space, not everything is known about the human body’s inner-space. Like any ecosystem, the human body responds to changes and external factors in occasionally unpredictable ways.

Catching a flu in the rain, knee pain before a storm, popping ears and tornadoes touching down—the body’s responses to weather range from scientifically accurate to folk-wisdom and even outright fable. But not all links between weather and pain are completely fictional.

Cold weather is known to affect the joints, causing pain, weakness, grinding, or general soreness. But why exactly is that? And what can you do to prevent it?

The Mystery

From kings of antiquity to mentions of the ailment in ancient texts, the link between cold weather and joint pain is nearly as old as the written word. It’s funny, then, that little scientific study has been devoted to understanding the relationship between the two.

Several likely theories exist, however, to roughly explain what might be going on.

One such theory suggests that, in an effort to conserve body heat in colder weather, what warmth you have is directed to more vital parts—internal organs in your torso and, of course, your head. This leaves less warmth for your joints which the body sees as secondary to sustaining life.

Another popular theory involves barometric pressure and its effect on inflammation. Swollen joints expose nerves making the knees, hips, and ankles more sensitive—especially if you spend significant time exercising outdoors. Running, walking, climbing outdoor stairwells—your exposure and level of activity during colder months can result in some pretty obvious achiness.

Cold weather naturally hits those already dealing with arthritis harder. If you have arthritis, you might feel the cold in your joints even more than average.

What You Can Do About It

If you’re committed to staying fit and active, then you’re not likely to let a few months of winter weather slow you down. The good news is that there are plenty of pre and post-workout steps you can take to ease or alleviate your expected aches and pains.

Staying warm may sound like a no-brainer, but it can be easier said than done. Wearing proper attire—especially if you plan on taking a jog outdoors—can make all the difference in the world.  While it may be somewhat less comfortable to wear longer pants, thermal underwear, or even compression sleeves when you’re otherwise accustomed to just shorts and shoes, keeping your knees, hips, and ankles compressed and insulated goes a long way.

Investing in purpose-built winter workout gear may seem like an inconvenience now, but it’ll pay dividends later.

Aside from what you wear, properly warming-up and cooling-down both before and after your workout can keep you limber and your muscles loose. Body weight squats can prepare the knees, while a few hip flexor stretches ready your body for impact. Repeating this process for at least 5 minutes after the workout is advisable as well.

Another more definite remedy involves simply working out indoors on especially frigid days.  There are plenty of programs, web series, and motivational videos available to work up a sweat in your living room. If you suffer from exceptional joint pain, an alternative workout on chillier days is probably the best way to go.

Ask Your Physician

If you experience frequent joint pain, or if your joints ache severely in colder weather, you may want to speak to a professional physician. Putting pain off or pretending it doesn’t exist usually only makes it worse.

The physicians at Alabama Orthopaedic Surgeons are experts in joint pain. Whether it’s down to your diet, intensity, and frequency of exercise, or simple stretches to loosen you up, Alabama Orthopaedic Surgeons know what to do for every pang, pain, ache, or cold snap you might feel.

Scroll to Top