Cold Weather and Hand Pain: What You Need to Know


Did you know that your hands are directly affected by the cold?

As the TriState community settles in for another Midwestern winter, the St. Elizabeth Hand Therapy team reminds you to stay in tune with your body’s needs during chilly weather. Hand pain, swelling and stiffness are common culprits in the winter – but luckily, specialized hand care is available. 

“The St. Elizabeth Hand Therapy department offers a variety of treatments for pain caused by cold weather,” says Ricki Collins, a Certified Hand Therapist and a Licensed Occupational Therapist at St. Elizabeth Healthcare. “We provide numerous modalities, including moist hot packs, paraffin units, therapeutic massage, isotoner gloves and individualized home programs.”

Cold Hands? Here’s Why.

When you are out in chilly weather, the blood flow in your hands and feet respond rapidly to the cold. This response decreases the blood flow to the hands and feet, redirecting that blood flow to your torso and central core. Your fingers and toes get cold to keep your trunk warm.

This cold response can have dangerous side effects for your hands, including decreased hand dexterity, grip strength, sensitivity and gross motor function. Continued exposure to cold can even lead to frostbite and necrosis. Tingling fingers and toes are a warning sign that you need to get inside to warm up.

Cold weather and arthritis

Many arthritis patients experience more significant pain during the cold weather months. Experts are not sure why cold weather has an impact on arthritis. Some theories suggest falling barometric pressure occurring as a cold front causes joints to expand, while low temperatures make the joints stiffer due to thicker synovial fluid. The autoimmune impact of cold and flu season can affect patients with inflammatory arthritis.

The St. Elizabeth Hand Therapyteam offers a one-hour arthritis evaluation and treatment session, which includes all therapy modalities, education and any necessary Activities of Daily Living (ADL) modifications. Our team will also create a customized at-home therapy plan for arthritis patients, including therapeutic exercises that can be done daily from home or work.

At-Home Remedies

Additionally, the St. Elizabeth Hand Therapyteam recommends the following at-home remedies to keep your hands warm and protected. Many of these tips can be utilized year-round, not just during cold-weather months.

  • Keep those fingers warm: Wear gloves and mittens when you go outside. Mittens will keep your hands warmer.
  • Fingerless gloves with mitten caps: wear fingerless gloves with mitten caps if you find your hands are cold indoors.
  • Layer up: Layer your clothing and cover exposed parts of your body. It’s especially important to wear both a scarf and a hat outdoors, which will keep the rest of your body warmer as well.
  • Hand warmers: Hand warmers can help keep your hands toasty if you’ll be outside for a longer period of time. Get hand warmers at a sporting goods store or make your own at home.
  • Don’t touch it: Avoid handling cold objects and use insulated cups for cold drinks.
  • Stay hydrated: When you’re dehydrated, your body limits blood flow to your skin and you get colder more quickly. The water in your body holds heat, so staying hydrated helps to maximize your body’s warmth.
  • Get a flu shot: Inflammation makes arthritis more painful. Get the flu shot and practice proper hand-washing to keep those cold and flu germs at bay.
  • Snuggle up at bedtime: Wear socks to bed and snuggle up under blankets, which helps utilize your body’s own heat and natural warmth.
  • Don’t smoke: Smoking narrows blood vessels, causing lower circulation throughout your body.
  • Exercise: Working out regularly helps to increase your body’s circulation. 
  • Pamper yourself: Pamper your hands with warm water soaks, lotions or essential oils. Moist heat is better than dry heat for your hands.

If you would like to set up an appointment at the St. Elizabeth Hand Therapy Center, please call (859) 301-5540 for more information. A doctor’s referral is needed. Our team accepts referrals from hand surgeons, family practice physicians, neurologists, business health physicians and many other fields of practice.