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Psoriatic arthritis can flare up during the cold winter months. Various remedies and lifestyle changes may help relieve symptoms.

Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) affects just over 3% of the population in the United States, and 7–17% of those with psoriasis, according to the authors of a 2010 research article. 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 link.

Cold temperatures and low humidity may contribute to winter flare-ups of psoriasis. A lack of sunlight can also have a negative effect and lead to vitamin D deficiency.

Experts believe vitamin D may help reduce inflammation and reduce the overproduction of cells in some people with psoriasis.

Research suggests that a vitamin D deficiency may be more common among people with PsA, although it is unclear if there is a link. They are also more likely to live farther away from the equator, where there is less sunshine in the winter.

The following tips can help people manage skin and joint inflammation and associated pain.

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Photo editing by Lauren Azor; Ricky Deacon/Getty Images

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.

People with skin problems due to psoriasis may find natural, soft, breathable fabrics, such as cotton, are less likely to irritate or trigger skin changes.

To stay warm in winter, a person with psoriasis and PsA might try wearing a base layer of cotton and adding layers of warmer fabrics.

Wearing cotton base layers — such as long-sleeved cotton tops, leggings, or long johns — can help prevent contact between the skin and irritating fibers in outer garments.

Various brands of long johns and other thermal clothes are available online. A 100%-cotton fleece can provide a warm outer layer.

Many people with PsA experience painful and swollen joints in their hands. 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, including gloves with tips that allow for phone use.

Walking, cycling, and other outdoor activities can help keep the joints mobile and flexible, but they may be less tempting in the cold winter months, especially for people with PsA.

Wearing layers of clothing can help protect the joints from cold. People can remove a layer or two if they get too hot while out exercising.

If the weather is too cold outdoors, an indoor exercise routine, such as yoga, may be helpful. A 2019 review suggests that yoga can help manage inflammation in conditions such as arthritis.

Guidelines published in 2019 recommend low-impact activities for people with PsA, such as tai chi, yoga, or swimming.

Exercising in a heated pool can help boost circulation and loosen stiff and aching joints during the winter months.

Water provides a combination of resistance and buoyancy, which can benefit people with PsA. Resistance increases the intensity of the exercise, while buoyancy helps support body weight and relieves pressure on the joints.

It is worth noting that chlorinated water can irritate or dry out the skin in people with psoriasis.

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. Most said it improved their joint mobility, strength, and balance and had reduced stiffness and pain. But more research is necessary to confirm how hydrotherapy may benefit people with PsA.

An indoor humidifier may help counteract the drying effects of central heating. These units replace some moisture in the air, which helps keep the skin from drying out.

Various humidifiers are available for purchase online.

What are the benefits of using a humidifier?

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.

Phototherapy, or light therapy, delivers controlled amounts of UV light to the skin. This can help relieve psoriasis symptoms. It may help people with psoriasis and PsA.

say that phototherapy treatments using UVB phototherapy and psoralen plus UVA (PUVA) therapy may help manage symptoms of psoriasis.

But it can take several sessions to see an improvement. Long-term exposure to UV light may also increase the risk of skin cancer.

UVB phototherapy

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 this treatment in a medical setting. A person can also learn to use a light unit and perform the treatment at home. UVB lights are available online.

PUVA therapy

PUVA therapy also uses rays present in sunlight. Like UVB rays, UVA 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 cause short-term side effects, such as nausea and a temporary worsening of skin irritation. Talk with a doctor about medications and home treatments that may help counteract these effects.

Learn more about light therapy for psoriasis here.

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. This can affect their quality of life.

The following tips can help establish good sleep habits:

  • Follow a regular sleep schedule.
  • Ensure the room is dark, quiet, and neither too hot nor too cold.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco before bedtime.
  • Limit or avoid screen time before bed and leave devices in another room, if possible.
  • Exercise each day, as this helps people sleep better at night.

Get some more tips here on how to get better sleep.

Vitamin D is a hormone essential for maintaining healthy bones and skin. The body produces most of its vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but levels can fall during the winter months.

A 2015 study looked into the relationship between vitamin D3 and PsA. People with PsA who had low vitamin D3 levels also had greater disease activity. Lower vitamin D levels were also associated with more severe skin lesions in people with psoriasis.

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 reduce symptoms.

Food sources of vitamin D include oily fish and fortified dairy products. A doctor may also recommend vitamin D supplements in some cases.

How can a person get more vitamin D into their diet?

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.

Which lotions and moisturizers are good for people with psoriasis?

During winter, cold, dry weather and reduced daylight hours can worsen PsA symptoms. But a person can do many things to reduce these effects on their skin and joints.

Moisturizing and wearing appropriate clothing may help protect the skin and the joints. Getting enough sleep, exercise, and vitamin D may also help.

During cold weather, taking these steps can reduce symptoms and may help improve the quality of life for people with PsA.