These 6 Tips Are Game-Changers if Exercising in the Cold Makes Your Joints Hurt

Getty Images/martin-dm
You know that moment when you’re exercising outdoors in the cold and suddenly your joints hurt and your body feels stiff? It can be hard to move easily, let alone enjoy what you’re doing. You could go back inside, but you know that training in the great outdoors has both physical and mental benefits, and now that days are finally getting longer (and less intensely freezing), you don’t want to pass up the welcome fresh air. But the cold weather is leading to painful joints.

So what can you do?

First, it’s helpful to know why we suffer from painful joints in cold weather. “Cold temperatures typically slow down metabolic activity and muscle/nervous activity of the body,” says Scott A. Smith, MD, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon in Texas.

Siddharth Tambar, MD, a rheumatologist in Chicago, adds that “changes in barometric pressure [and a] drop in temperature can lead to swelling in the joints and muscles, creating pressure and pain.” Cold weather causes blood flow to go towards the center of your body to keep your vital organs warm, which can leave other parts—like your arms and legs—in pain.

How to lessen joint pain in the cold

Here’s the good news: You can take proactive and reactive measures to prevent (or at least decrease) joint pain caused by the cold weather.

Experts In This Article
  • Scott A. Smith, MD, Scott A. Smith, MD, is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon in Texas.
  • Siddharth Tambar, MD, Siddharth Tambar, MD, is a rheumatologist with Chicago Arthritis and Regenerative Medicine.

1. Take the time to warm up from the inside-out

Smith recommends starting with a prolonged warm-up. “Typical warm-up is five minutes, but if you need more time, prolong,” he says.

Include some stretching to loosen up your muscles, and do it indoors if you can, says Tambar. Focus on dynamic stretches that simultaneously warm you up and get the blood flowing to the arms and legs.

Try this quick series to get warm and loose before heading out:

2. Wear protective layers

Before you step out the door, Smith suggests layering on protective clothing that can be removed as you get further into your workout and start to generate your own heat. If it's particularly breezy out, zip on a windbreaker that you can tie around waist once you start working up a sweat.

3. Don't skip your cooldown

Once you’ve finished, do a cool-down exercise (read: don’t go directly from running to sitting in your car) so that your body can progressively return to its normal temperature. “Cool down long enough to rehydrate and get pulse/respiration and body temperature back to normal,” Smith says. He suggests setting aside roughly 20 minutes for this. That may seem like a long time, but it will not only help your joints feel less fatigued, he says, but also help prevent injury so that you can head out again tomorrow without pain.

4. Experiment with heat and ice

After your workout, a warm bath, warm clothes, a heating pad, or ice packs can help with joint pain, too, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Either heat or cold may work best for you, but both can do the trick (one at a time, of course!).

5. Go low-impact

If you really want to help your joints out, switch to workouts that are easier on them. The Mayo Clinic lists low-impact exercises such as walking, bicycling, gentle forms of yoga, and even “chores'' like mowing the lawn, raking leaves, or walking your dog. Remember: Your workout routine doesn’t have to be intense to be helpful.

Take your mat outside for this low-impact cardio sess:

6. Ask the experts

If you’re still feeling too stiff to move, take a trip to the doc to make sure it’s not something more serious. Exercise—even in the cold—isn’t supposed to be painful.

Oh hi! You look like someone who loves free workouts, discounts for cutting-edge wellness brands, and exclusive Well+Good content. Sign up for Well+, our online community of wellness insiders, and unlock your rewards instantly.

Loading More Posts...