Preparing for Winter

I once wrote that I preferred winter to summer for RA. That my joints feel better in the cold. That in general, I am more enthusiastic and alive because I feel less RA-related fatigue. I find the heat exhausting.

My preference for the cold was when I lived high in the mountains of Utah. I had come to love the cold crisp air and really preferred the winter to the brutal heat of summer.

Not all winters are the same

My perception of winter changed drastically when I moved to the Midwest. I think there is a big difference between dry winter air and wet winter air. The blue sky days and sparkling white snow characteristic of Utah were great. The wet, cold, long months of grey skies in the Midwest are another thing entirely. Gone is the thought that my body feels better in the winter. The wet cold air cuts through my thickest winter coats. The near-constant winter winds with the biting frost sure do a number on the joints.

I was not prepared for the Midwest winters

I was unprepared last winter. I lacked the correct shoes (because finding comfortable shoes is hard enough, let alone waterproof winter boots with good traction for the ice), lacked thick enough jackets and layers, and in general, continued to find myself having to take my shoes off and massage my frigid and painful feet after walking around on campus. Honestly, there were a few days where I was taken back by how painful cold feet combined with inflammation and joint damage were. I could hardly walk.

Last winter was rough. One of my worst. When my daughter was born, there were months of sleepless nights and constant stress that seemed to amplify the pain in my joints and bring near-constant fatigue. Add in the bitter cold, and I was counting the days until summer.

How to prepare for winter with rheumatoid arthritis

This year I decided to prepare. Or over-prepare. Here is a checklist for those of you facing a bitter winter, and some ideas of things to get ready if you haven’t already.

High-quality, RA-friendly winter boots

First, winter boots. This is an obvious one, but as mentioned, with RA, it can be tough. I spent far more on a pair of boots than I ever have, having saved money knowing how much I needed a high-quality pair.

What to look for: as I discussed in a video on choosing shoes, make sure that the toe box does not constrict your foot. The pointier or narrower the front of the shoes, the more it squeezes your metatarsals together and squeezing equals pain.

Soft leather is good since it can move a bit with your foot when you walk. I found waterproof leather shoes that are soft and wide enough in the toe box. I broke them in further with a boot stretcher and they have worked out great so far. The only thing that helps prevent pain in my feet is keeping the pressure off.

Invest in winter tires and other winter car gear

Winter tires for the car. If you have never felt the confidence of winter tires while driving in the snow, they are a game-changer. They reduce the chance of getting stuck in the snow. They stop faster, grip the road better, and I don’t need to put on chains, which is brutal in the cold with joint pain in the hands.  Also, winter-specific windshield wiper blades, and winter windshield wiper fluid/deicer. Avoid the hassle of having to mess with the car in the winter as much as possible.

Take care of your body

Speaking of hands, a hand repair cream or balm is amazing in the winter, or year-round. Cracked skin on inflamed fingers is painful and avoidable.

Gym membership: Physical activity declines in the winter if you generally do a lot of physical activity outside. Exercise is good for the joints, fatigue, and mental health, so finding an indoor place to keep moving can be a good idea.

Have activities to do

Planning things to do: With kids, winters can get long with everyone in the house. Cabin fever sets in. This year, my wife and I are planning a number of things to do with the kids to get them out of the house. We found a few indoor play areas within reasonable distance as well. Having something for the stir-crazy kids to do can help with fatigue.

Proper winter gloves

Real winter gloves: I used to only wear burly winter gloves when I was actually putting my hands in the snow. Skiing, shoveling snow, and snowball fights were about the only times I put them on. Now, whenever I am out I keep my hands as warm as possible. There are days when I seem to be the only person with massive gloves on, but whatever. I like my hands not hurting.

What do you do for winter? Any tips and tricks you've picked up along the way?

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