Usually my best time of year with fewer rheumatoid arthritis symptoms is summer. My joints feel better in the heat and my energy levels improve. This year we’ve had a bit of a longer summer with heat waves well into September, but the winds are changing and it’s time to gear up for the cold.
In recent years I have learned that prevention is huge for keeping my joints happier during colder weather. Once my bones are cold, they are very difficult to warm up. This means I become extremely stiff, experience more aches and overall pain, and lose energy because I’m struggling to stay warm. For me, it’s not only my RA, but because I don’t move as much as others (I have to use a wheelchair for mobility) and also just have poorer circulation in general.
I’ve become much more aggressive about keeping warm, to the point where I may overdo it. However, it’s much easier to cool down than the many hours it takes to warm back up!
Here’s my tips for transitioning into the colder weather:
- Wear socks. I know, this sounds really dumb and basic, but it is so true! For a long time I didn’t wear socks because of the difficulty that I had in getting them on. But now I unashamedly ask my husband for help so that I wear my socks. There are also assistive tools that can help with getting socks on and off.
- Bundle up to the nines. Don’t be embarrassed about extreme bundling! Who cares if others think you look like a snowman! At least you will be warm! You can laugh at them beneath your layers of coats and scarves as they shiver in their fashionable outerwear. OK, I may exaggerate, but the point is not to be concerned what others think as long as you are plenty warm. In the depths of winter, I wear a hat, scarf (or several), down jacket, and also a down lap blanket that I wrap like a burrito around my legs. Looking like a puffball definitely beats getting cold.
- Minimize time in the cold. Time outside is something that I seriously consider when it’s cold out. I don’t make extra trips outside and I think about my plans carefully. I take public transportation and so carefully plan trip times to minimize waiting in the cold. Keeping this time to a minimum keeps my joints warmer and happier.
- Use a heating blanket. Don’t tell my family, but my heating blanket may be my best friend. I actually use it all year because I get colder than my husband (even at the height of summer). But I most definitely use it in winter to keep my joints comfortable while sleeping or to warm up after being outside. One of my tricks is to roll it out and turn it up a few minutes before getting into bed so that it has time to warm up the sheets before I sleep.
- Visit a sauna or whirlpool tub. Sitting in hot air or water is a great pleasure during the winter! I love going to the pool for exercise, then spending a few minutes in the whirlpool. I find that not only does it help to soothe my muscles, but it warms my joints and gets the blood flowing. Time in the whirlpool keeps me warm for hours, even if I only dip in for a few minutes.
Not everyone with RA may have the extreme sensitivity to cold that I experience, but keeping the joints warm helps to alleviate some of those winter aches and pains. I may move to a warmer climate someday, but in the meantime I have collected some useful strategies for coping with the cold of winter.