Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) affects around 30 percent of people who have psoriasis. This type of arthritis can also occur in people without psoriasis.
Cold weather can cause achy joints in many people, and those with arthritis or other joint conditions may experience significant flares of symptoms.
PsA causes joint inflammation and pain. Many people report that cold weather worsens symptoms, but few studies have investigated this association.
Cold temperatures and low humidity can contribute to winter flare-ups of psoriasis. A lack of sunlight can also have a negative effect and lead to vitamin D deficiency.
The following tips can help people manage skin and joint inflammation and associated pain.
1. Take a warm bath
A warm bath can soothe joints and muscles.
Simply bathing in warm water can help ease pressure on aching joints, reducing swelling and inflammation.
A warm bath can ease the symptoms of many types of musculoskeletal conditions, including arthritis, fibromyalgia, and low back pain.
Ideally, water should not be too hot or cold, about 92–100°F (33–38°C). Aim to soak for around 20 minutes.
Try some gentle stretches after bathing to keep the joints and muscles supple for longer.
2. Wear the right clothing
Experts often advise people with psoriasis to wear natural, soft, breathable fabrics, such as cotton. To stay warm in winter, try wearing a base layer of cotton and adding layers of warmer fabrics.
When buying base layers, choose long-sleeved cotton tops, leggings, or long johns.
The aim is to cover as much skin as possible. This will prevent it from coming into contact with any irritating fibers in outer garments.
Various brands of long johns and other thermal clothes are available online.
To be extra safe, choose 100-percent cotton fleece for the outer layers, when possible.
3. Carry thermal gloves with you
Many people with PsA experience painful and swollen joints in the hands. Wearing waterproof, insulated gloves can protect the joints from cold and damp conditions.
When choosing gloves, make sure that they allow the hand to bend without too much resistance. This makes it possible to grip things without putting too much pressure on the joints.
Thermal gloves are available in outdoor stores and online.
4. Exercise regularly
A person who regularly exercises outdoors can switch to exercising indoors.
Regular physical activities, such as walking or cycling, may be less pleasant in the cold winter months, especially for people with PsA.
However, these kinds of activities keep the joints mobile and flexible. Regular exercise also helps keep body weight down, which prevents the joints from becoming overloaded.
For more comfortable outdoor exercise during the winter months, try wearing extra items of clothing, such as thermal gloves. These help insulate the joints, protecting them from the cold.
Alternatively, try swapping outdoor activities for a regular indoor exercise routine, such as yoga. A systematic review from 2019 suggests that yoga can help treat inflammatory conditions, including arthritis, by helping keep inflammation at bay.
5. Try water exercises
Exercising in a heated pool is a good way to boost circulation and loosen stiff and aching joints during the winter months.
However, note that chlorinated water can irritate or dry out the skin if a person has skin psoriasis.
Water provides a combination of resistance and buoyancy, which is particularly beneficial for people with PsA. Resistance increases the intensity of the exercise, while buoyancy helps support body weight and relieve pressure on the joints.
A person with PsA might benefit from hydrotherapy, which is a set of supervised, structured exercises carried out in a warm-water pool.
A 2013 study interviewed 10 people with PsA about their experiences with hydrotherapy. The majority reported that it had improved their joint mobility, strength, and balance and had reduced stiffness and pain.
To confirm whether hydrotherapy can relieve PsA symptoms, scientists still need to perform high-quality research, including randomized controlled trials.
6. Use a humidifier
A good way to counteract the drying effects of central heating is to use an indoor humidifier. These units replace some moisture in the air, which helps keep the skin from drying out.
People can compare brands of humidifiers online.
7. Try phototherapy
During the winter months, cloudy weather and reduced daylight hours decrease levels of sunlight exposure. This may trigger psoriasis flares in some people.
When symptoms of psoriasis get worse, they can trigger PsA, though the two issues are not always linked.
Phototherapy, or light therapy, delivers controlled amounts of ultraviolet light to the skin, and this can help relieve psoriasis symptoms. Phototherapy treatments include ultraviolet B (UVB) phototherapy and psoralen + ultraviolet A (PUVA) therapy.
UVB rays are present in natural sunlight. Regularly exposing affected areas of skin to UVB can help slow the growth of psoriatic skin cells.
People may experience a short-term worsening of skin irritation before noticing improvements.
A physician or a dermatologist can provide the treatment, in a medical setting. Or, a person can learn to use a light unit and perform the treatment at home. UVB lights are available online.
PUVA therapy also uses rays present in sunlight. Like UVB rays, ultraviolet A rays slow excessive skin cell growth and can help alleviate psoriasis flare-ups.
For this to work, a person must also take the light-sensitizing medication psoralen.
PUVA may produce short-term side effects, such as nausea and a temporary worsening of skin irritation. Talk to a doctor about medications and home treatments that may help counteract these effects.
Learn more about light therapy for psoriasis here.
8. Practice good sleep habits
Practicing good sleep hygiene can help improve PsA symptoms.
Some people find that having fewer hours of daylight disrupts their sleep cycle, making them feel tired during the day.
For people with PsA, a lack of sleep can worsen chronic pain and other symptoms, and this can affect the quality of life.
The National Psoriasis Foundation provides the following tips for achieving and maintaining good sleep habits:
- Follow a regular sleep schedule every evening.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco before bedtime.
- Limit screen time before bed.
- Use blackout curtains or low ambient lighting in the bedroom to create a comfortable sleep environment.
- Wear an eye mask and earplugs to ensure peaceful sleep.
- Use a light therapy device throughout the day. These mimic natural daylight and can help reset a person’s internal clock.
- Limit daytime naps to 30 minutes.
- Increase physical activity during the day.
- Keep a diary to monitor habits that may be affecting sleep.
9. Take vitamin D supplements
Vitamin D is a hormone essential for maintaining healthy bones and skin. The body produces most of its vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight.
Because there are fewer daylight hours in winter, many people become deficient in vitamin D during the season.
A 2015 study looked into the relationship between vitamin D-3 and PsA. Among people with PsA, those with insufficient vitamin D3 levels had greater PsA disease activity.
Among people with psoriasis, lower vitamin D levels were also associated with more severe skin lesions.
A 2015 review investigated the efficacy of vitamin D pills and topical vitamin D treatments for psoriasis. The researchers found that both types of vitamin D treatments could improve symptoms.
10. Moisturize regularly
During winter, cold winds and low outdoor humidity can dry the skin. Central heating can add to the problem, worsening psoriasis symptoms.
Colloidal oatmeal (CO) solution is a natural moisturizer made from finely ground oats. It forms a protective barrier over the skin, and this helps lock in moisture.
CO also has anti-inflammatory properties, which can help alleviate the skin-related symptoms of inflammatory conditions.
A person can buy creams and lotions that contain CO in drug stores and online.
Alternatively, try bathing in a homemade CO solution. Wrap a handful of oats in a muslin cloth and tie the cloth beneath a tap of warm, running water.
After bathing, gently pat the skin with a soft, clean towel. Apply a layer of moisturizer to the skin while it is still damp to help seal in moisture.
During winter, cold, dry weather and reduced daylight hours can worsen PsA symptoms. However, a person can do many things to reduce these effects on their skin and joints.
Keeping the skin moisturized and wearing appropriate clothing are important for protecting against the elements.
Longer-term lifestyle changes, such as maintaining healthful sleep and exercise schedules and taking vitamin D supplements, are also important.
During cold weather, taking these steps can reduce symptoms and improve the quality of life for people with PsA.