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Coldness in Bones with RA: What You Need to Know

Managing RA

June 27, 2023

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Photography by Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images

Photography by Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images

by Jenna Fletcher


Medically Reviewed by:

Stella Bard, MD


by Jenna Fletcher


Medically Reviewed by:

Stella Bard, MD


Feeling coldness in your bones is a sensation that can include pain, numbness, or soreness. Causes aren’t fully understood but might be due to cold temperatures making joint fluid thicker, increasing contraction and expansion of muscles, and changing exercise frequency.

Living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can affect you in ways that you may not expect.

It might make you feel a coldness in your bones. When the weather starts to change, and suddenly your symptoms start to flare — you may feel a tingling numbness in your hands, feet, or bones elsewhere in your body.

While experts are still not sure why this happens, it’s a normal occurrence to feel coldness in bones, particularly during colder weather.

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What does coldness in bones feel like?

Many people living with RA describe experiencing flares during winter months. These flares may include usual RA symptoms such as extreme fatigue, fever, and joint pain.

Coldness in bones refers to the impact of cold weather on bones. For example, cold weather can cause you to feel pain, numbness, or soreness in your bones and accompanying joints.

“The sensation is almost like I left that particular area out in the cold while the rest of me is warm. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, which is a little similar to when your teeth become extra sensitive to cold foods.”

Fiske Nyirongo, diagnosed with RA in 2012

“Coldness in the bones feels like a chill you get when you are outside in cold weather, but it doesn’t go away even when you get warm. It feels like the coldness is much deeper than the skin. It feels like it is truly in your bones and joints. It makes me feel so stiff and achy.”

Alexis Rochester, diagnosed with RA in 1997

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What causes this sensation?

The cause of coldness in your bones is not well understood. Cold temperatures might affect RA symptoms because:

  • Low temperatures can cause the synovial fluid in your joints to become thicker. This can make joints stiffer and harder to move.
  • Changes in barometric pressure can accompany cold temperatures and cause your tendons, muscles, bones, and scar tissues to contract and expand. This action could cause pain.
  • Exercise is one of the best lifestyle interventions to decrease RA pain. You may be less active in colder weather, which could worsen symptoms.
  • Your mental health could be affected by colder temperatures, which can affect your RA symptoms.

“I learned that it might not be the best idea to push my body’s limits when spending time in cold weather.”

Fiske Nyirongo in “7 Ways to Manage Arthritis in Cold Weather”

Read more about Fiske Nyirongo’s experience with cold weather and RA.

What evidence is there?

Many people feel worsening symptoms of RA during the winter, but the scientific community is split on how — and even if — cold weather actually affects RA.

In a 2017 study, researchers looked at how working in a cold environment affected the risk of developing RA. They found a correlation between working in cold temperatures with finger movement and an increased risk of developing RA. This may be due to how the cold impacts different antibodies in the bones that can lead to RA.

“The cold not only paralyzes me, but it seems to multiply my RA joint pain by 100. It’s hard to move, especially outdoors, during the colder, winter months. Even if it isn’t cold outside, I still experience cold flashes.”

Stefanie Remson, diagnosed with RA in 2015

It’s not only cold weather that can trigger symptoms and flares

In a small 2020 study, researchers noted that people with RA have a higher chance of experiencing a flare in symptoms during extreme winter or summer weather.

In a 2019 study, researchers collected self-reported pain levels, activities, weather, and mood over the course of 6 months in those living with RA and osteoporosis. Reported pain levels worsened the most during humid or windy weather and when atmospheric pressure was lower.

So, cold weather doesn’t seem to be the only culprit. Changes in weather, pressure, and extreme temperatures may trigger changing sensations in your bones and worsen RA symptoms.

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Tips to help manage coldness in bones

When coldness affects your bones or your joint pain worsens, you can take some steps to start feeling better. Here are some tips to help get you started:

  • Talk with a doctor: If your symptoms worsen during the winter or any time of year, a doctor may be able to adjust your medications or give recommendations for dealing with symptoms.
  • Dress for the weather: When it’s cold outside, you want to make sure you’re prepared. Wear gloves, a hat, and an appropriate coat. This can help keep you warm during cold weather, which may help prevent flares.
  • Exercise indoors: Exercise is important to help reduce symptom severity, but staying active in cold temperatures may not always be possible for those living with RA. If you can, try to exercise inside. Depending on your space and budget, options can include home workout programs, use of equipment like a treadmill, or joining a gym.
  • Stay hydrated: Hydration can help your body in many ways, including helping with temperature regulation.
  • Listen to your body: Some days you may feel better than others. It’s OK to prioritize taking care of your needs 1 day at a time. If you need a break from exercise, take some time off. If you feel symptoms coming on, you may want to make an appointment with a doctor.

“[Paraffin wax] is a great treatment to use during the winter, especially in the morning, when joints are the stiffest and most painful.”

Alexis Rochester in “8 Cold Weather Joint Pain Remedies”

Read more about Alexis’ tips and tricks for cold weather remedies.


Can you really get chilled to the bone with arthritis?

Yes, you can technically get chilled to your bones when you have arthritis. You can feel coldness in your bones, though the exact reason for this is still not fully known. Theories suggest it may have to do with changes in pressure or temperatures that affect your joints and bones.

Why does the cold cause pain in my joints but an ice pack helps inflammation?

An ice pack provides concentrated therapy for joint pain. When applied correctly, it can help reduce inflammation in the joints, making them feel better. When it’s cold outside, or you get very cold, your symptoms may worsen. The exact mechanism behind this is still not known, but both research and anecdotal evidence suggests this happens to many people living with RA.

Is it normal for my bones to hurt when it’s cold?

You may find your bones hurt when it’s cold. You may find your RA symptoms flare up in general, making you feel more tired and stiff than usual. You’re not alone when it comes to feeling symptoms in your bones when it’s cold outside.

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Coldness in your bones refers to the sensations cold weather has on bones and can include pain, numbness, or soreness. Similar sensations may also occur during other changes in weather conditions, including higher temperature and humidity. You may also find that, in general, your RA symptoms worsen or are triggered by weather changes.

Researchers are not clear on the exact reason why. It might be due to changes in joint fluid thickness, increased contraction and expansion of muscles, and changes in exercise or mental health.

You may find that you can control your symptoms by taking some precautionary steps, such as dressing for the weather, talking with a doctor about increasing or changing your therapies in preparation, or taking other steps to stay warm.

Medically reviewed on June 27, 2023

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About the author

Jenna Fletcher

Jenna Fletcher is a freelance writer and content creator. She writes extensively about health and wellness. As a mother of one stillborn twin, she has a personal interest in writing about overcoming grief and postpartum depression and anxiety, and reducing the stigma surrounding child loss and mental healthcare. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Muhlenberg College.

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