How I Reduce My Winter Joint Pain With Yoga and Walking

by kajohu

Do your joints hurt more during the winter than during the summer? You can relieve winter joint pain by exercising mindfully to develop stronger, more supple and healthy joints.

Do your joints hurt more during the winter than during other times of the year?

One reason that many of us have more joint pain during the winter is that we're often less physically active during the colder months. That may lead to stiffer and weaker joints, which can contribute to pain.

One way to reduce joint pain during the winter (and at anytime of the year!) is with exercise, including yoga and walking, to develop stronger, and healthier pain-free joints.

Gentle Exercising Helps Keep My Joints Feeling Good in Winter

Yoga and walking work for me

I use a two-pronged approach for relieving winter joint pain.   I exercise to keep my joints supple and the surrounding muscles strong, and I take extra Vitamin D supplements during the winter which help to reduce joint pain.

On this page we look at how staying physically active and exercising mindfully, including yoga and walking, help to keep our joints healthier and more pain-free.  

I've already written about reducing winter joint pain with Vitamin D which talks about the importance of Vitamin D for joint health, and why many of us are deficient in Vitamin D during the winter.

(By the way, much of this will work to help joint pain during the summer as well!)

Move Your Body During the Winter (and All Year Round)!

Exercising Keeps Joints Flexible and Reduces Pain

It's very important that we stay active during the winter (and during the whole year!).   During the winter, many of us have a tendency to be less physically active, whether it's from feeling sluggish and slow due to cloudy weather (common where I live!), or that it's just too cold or dark to want to go out for our regular exercise.

If you find that you exercise less during the winter for any reason you probably notice that you're stiffer and weaker.  This can lead to more joint pain, whether it's from arthritis or fibromyalgia, or from weak, unsupported joints.

When we can develop stronger, more flexible and supple joints, we experience less joint pain and less likelihood of joint injuries. 

There are a number of great ways we can work toward healthier, pain-free joints during the winter, however I'll be giving you an overview of the two types of activities that help me the most:

  • Yoga
  • Walking (hiking, cross-country skiing)

And besides helping to relieve joint pains, these activities make us feel better overall, which is so very important for the many of us who experience some SAD (seasonal affective disorder) symptoms during the winter!

Yoga Helps Relieve Joint Pain

Winter and Summer Joint Pain Relief

I'm a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher, and I've been practicing and teaching yoga for many years.  I often hear from my yoga students that they have had less joint pain after starting yoga classes.   Their knees, hips, backs, necks, and shoulders feel better from their practice of yoga poses.  

Yoga Helps Reduce Joint Pain
Yoga Helps Reduce Joint Pain
Photo is my own

I've experienced the same for myself.   My knees are my "weak" joints, from past injuries and probably from some arthritis, but I know how to work with them in yoga poses to help them stay strong and flexible.  I rarely feel pain in them any more (unless it's late winter and I haven't been taking my Vitamin D supplements -- then my knees may bother me a little).

Yoga helps to relieve joint pain by creating more mobility and flexibility in the joints, and by stretching and strengthening the muscles that surround the joints.

If you plan to take a yoga class, or practice from a yoga video, and have been sedentary up until now, it's a good idea first to talk it over with your health care provider.   Also do your research on what kinds of yoga classes are available in your area.   Some yoga classes may be very active and challenging, while others may go at a slower pace.   Unless you're already strong and active and have good body awareness, I'd recommend finding a slower, gentler yoga class to start with. 

Stretch and strengthen joints with yoga
Stretch and strengthen joints with yoga
(image my own)

Iyengar Yoga, the method of yoga I teach, is known in part for attention to learning and practicing good alignment, which also helps relieve joint pain.  If you repeatedly do yoga poses, or any activity, with poor alignment, there's a good chance you'll end up with more joint pain from injuring yourself.

A couple of the yoga classes I teach are Gentle Yoga classes.  These are perfect for people who are suffering from mild to moderate joint pain, and are looking for a slower-paced, more gentle approach to the practice of yoga.

I've written a few articles about different aspects of yoga.  Browse through the following list for more yoga information to help you understand how the practice of yoga poses can keep our joints healthier and more pain-free, how to go about finding a good yoga class for yourself, and tips and ideas for practicing on your own.

Benefits of Yoga for Arthritis
Much chronic joint pain is from arthritis. Yoga helps relieve arthritis pain.

Yoga for Arthritis DVD Recommendations
Helpful arthritis DVDs

Seven Basic Yoga Standing Poses
Yoga standing poses are great for stronger, more flexible, and more pain-free joints.

Yoga for Back Pain Relief
Yoga has helped many of my yoga students with mild to moderate back pain.

How to Find the Best Begninning Yoga Class for You
Ideas for searching out a good yoga class that suits your needs.

Iyengar Yoga Book Recommendations
These are the books that I most recommend to my yoga students, to help them with their own practice.

Walking Helps Relieve Winter Joint Pain

Besides practicing yoga, I also try to get out walking a few times a week during the winter.  When there's enough snow, I much prefer to cross country ski instead, which gives similar joint benefits with more of an aerobic workout.  But I also enjoy walking as long as I'm bundled up!

I find that walking outside also helps me reduce SAD (seasonal affective disorder) symptoms, such as sluggishness, low spirits, and fatigue during the day.

Walking is a gentle way to help keep our joints more supple and our body stronger.   Also if we can walk outside, we'll get fresh air and some extra Vitamin D from our exposure to sunlight, even if most of it is filtered through clouds!   (See Reduce Winter Joint Pain With Vitamin D).

If walking outside during the winter isn't feasible for you, go to a gym or your local YMCA where there's a track or treadmills.  Or walk in a shopping mall.   There are many people who go to our local shopping mall early in the morning to get in their walking exercise!

Getting Started With a Winter Walking Program

If you aren't already a walker, start slowly and build up over time!  If you try to jump in and go for long walks right away, you'll wear yourself out, and you may get frustrated and give up.  Be patient with yourself!

To begin, you might go out for 10 minutes, up and down your block, for a few days.   Then add another few minutes to your routine, until you're up to 30 minutes a day.   Or walk three times a day, for 10 minutes each time.   If you are very sore or tired the next day, back off a little and go for a shorter walk.

Especially if you walk outside during the winter, make sure you dress for the weather.   It's discouraging to get outside and be too cold to finish your walk, or worse yet have to finish your walk while cold because you're not near home!   If you dress in layers, you can always remove or unzip a layer if you get too warm.  

For many people, the hardest part of any exercise program is sticking with it.  Make a plan for yourself when you'll walk each day, and don't let other distractions, whims, or responsibilities take that time away from you.  Walking with a friend is a great idea, because you're also accountable to someone else.

Walking Safely Outside During the Winter

Once you get started with your walking program, you may be disappointed if it's too icy or snowy for you to go outside.  

You may consider getting cleats for your boots for better traction on the ice, and walking / hiking poles for stability. 

The walking poles will be good for whenever you're on uneven terrain, or if you have problems with balance.

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More Good Walking Information

Joint-Friendly Walking Program
Managing osteoarthritis pain -- walking program (good for other mild-moderate joint pain as well).

Exercise Helps Ease Arthritis Pain and Stiffness
Includes information about various types of exercising for joint pain relief, including walking.

Ease Winter Joint Pain
Walking during the winter can have surprising health benefits, especially for those that suffer from arthritis.

Hiking Poles Give Stability on Snow and Ice
Hiking Poles Give Stability on Snow a...
(image my own)
Updated: 01/25/2015, kajohu
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Do you have winter joint pain? What has helped you?

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kajohu on 02/26/2012

Thanks for the comment, katiem2 :-) Yes, it's so very good to keep moving. I think I'd be a cranky old bat by now if I weren't doing yoga / walking / hiking!

katiem2 on 02/26/2012

You've mentioned three of my favorite things, yoga, walking and hiking I know what to do when I feel a bit stiff. Its so true we really need to keep moving, going and living life. Good advice, thanks :)

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