Massage for Winter Joint Pain and Stiffness: 7 Tips for Relief

Massage for Winter Joint Pain and Stiffness: 7 Tips for Relief

Alicia Schultz Alicia Schultz
13 minute read

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Whether you love or hate the winter, the chillier temperatures bring a shared problem for many of us: cold weather joint pain.

As the air gets colder and days get shorter, you might feel achier in your knees, shoulders, and other joints. And while a warm compress or soak in a bath can sometimes help, massage therapy is another remedy that can bring relief.

Below, discover the benefits of massage for winter joint pain, along with seven key tips to help you get started.

Why Do Joints Hurt More in the Winter?

If you’re prone to joint pain, you’ve probably noticed that it tends to get worse in damp, cold weather. But why exactly does this happen?

In short, researchers haven’t found a direct reason for weather-related joint pain. But they suspect it could stem from things like:

Pressure and Temperature Changes

Barometric pressure — also known as atmospheric pressure — is one reason why joints might become stiffer in the winter. Your soft tissues expand as the pressure drops, which can lead to more strain on your knees, shoulders, elbows, and hips.

Less Movement

In the winter, we tend to spend more time on the couch, watching movies, reading books, and staying cozy and warm inside. And unfortunately, this sedentary shift can lead to muscle and joint pain. 

Why? Simply put, staying in the same position for extended periods can fatigue your muscles – increasing stiffness and decreasing mobility. For example, sitting too long tires out your hip flexors, and it’s why you might feel creaky and stiff after a day at your work desk.

Plus, a sedentary lifestyle can mean poorer circulation and weaker supporting muscles throughout your body. And combined with weather-related changes, it can make for an uncomfortable increase in joint pain.

Arthritis and Other Medical Conditions

Aside from pressure changes and inactivity, certain conditions can also lead to more painful joints in the winter. 

While we don’t know exactly why this happens, many people with these conditions can almost predict when the weather will affect their symptoms. Some conditions that may trigger cold weather joint pain include:

  • Arthritis
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia

How Can Massage Help Winter Joint Pain?

If you’ve been dealing with winter joint pain, you might wonder: Could massage therapy help?

For many people, yes. Alongside a healthy lifestyle, massage in the winter can offer benefits like:

Improved Mobility

Beyond being a powerful stress reliever, massage can boost mobility in your muscles and joints. This is because it relaxes tight bands of tissue, eases stiffness, and breaks up trigger points — all of which could limit your mobility in the winter.

According to the American Massage Therapy Association, massage has been shown to:

  • Reduce muscle stiffness and fatigue after exercise
  • Promote soft tissue function
  • Boost relaxation
  • Improve range of motion

On top of that, a 2017 review found that massage could improve shoulder range of motion, especially flexion (lifting your arm in front of you) and abduction (raising your arm to the side). 

Muscle and Joint Pain Relief

Massage not only loosens up stiff joints, but it also encourages blood flow and warmth in the muscles. 

In turn, this helps relieve muscle pain and stiffness — and it may even ease pain in conditions like arthritis. In fact, early evidence suggests that massage can ease arthritis pain in the hands, wrists, and knees. 

(Note: It’s best to talk with your doctor before trying massage for arthritis, as it may not always be right for those with significant joint erosion or osteoporosis.)

A Boost of Feel-Good Endorphins

When it comes to pain relief, massage’s effects are just as much mental as they are physical. Remarkably, this natural therapy has been shown to come with a cascade of emotional health benefits, including:

  • Triggering the body’s relaxation response 
  • Boosting feel-good endorphins
  • Improving the perception of fatigue and energy 
  • Easing stress and anxiety 
  • Reducing feelings of depression 
  • Improving mood and overall well-being

7 Massage Tips for Winter Joint Pain Relief 

Woman using MedMassager MMB05 on shoulder.

If you’re curious about trying massage for winter joint pain, here are seven tips to help you maximize your relief:

1. Try a Foam Roller for Self-Myofascial Release

Self-myofascial release (SMR) is a form of massage that you can try with a foam roller or massage ball. It involves slow, steady pressure – usually in the form of rolling – to break up tension and trigger points in the muscles and fascia.

Because it’s done with budget-friendly tools, it can be an easy, accessible home remedy for cold weather joint pain. 

Foam Rolling for Cold Weather Knee Pain

If you’ve ever Googled “foam rolling,” you might’ve felt overwhelmed by all the fitness-focused guides and exercises out there. 

But the truth is, using a foam roller is incredibly simple — and it can be a great tool for in-the-moment relief. 

To try it yourself, here’s one rolling exercise that can help ease knee pain:

  • Place your foam roller on the ground in front of you.
  • Get down into a plank position, and rest one thigh on the roller. (Note: The roller should be horizontal to your body.)
  • Begin to slowly roll your quadriceps with moderate pressure. Repeat for 30-60 seconds.
  • Now, it’s time to switch positions. Flip your body so you’re facing upwards, and rest the roller underneath your hamstring.
  • Lift your hips off the ground and roll the hamstring, starting above the knee and stopping just under the glute.
  • Repeat for 30-60 seconds.

2. Use an Oscillating Massager for Relaxation

If you want to use self-massage for winter joint pain — but don’t want to do it manually — an oscillating massager like the MedMassager MMB05 can be the perfect option.

Devices like these are more hands-off, meaning they’re excellent to use while you’re relaxing, watching sports, or hanging out with family. The MMB05 also comes with several speed and pressure options, along with a user-friendly design that makes for easy relief.

To try it, here’s one way you can use it for winter elbow pain:

  • Rest the massager on your lap, with the oscillating surface pointing upward.
  • Turn it to a gentle setting, and rest your forearm on top of it.
  • Allow it to warm up your muscles for 60 seconds. 
  • Increase the pressure to your desired intensity, and allow it to work into your muscles for 5-10 minutes more.
  • Repeat up to a few times per day as needed.

3. Grab a Massage Gun For On-The-Go Relief

If you’re someone who’s always on the go, a massage gun can be one of the best self-massage tools to try this winter. These devices use percussive therapy to work deeply into the muscles — delivering relief in as little as 1-2 minutes.

Because of their portability and convenience, massage guns are top favorites among sports players and those with active lifestyles. Their main benefits include:

  • Quick, powerful relief from everyday aches and pains
  • Supporting flexibility and mobility
  • Promoting relaxation
  • Encouraging healthy blood flow

4. Add Stretching to the Mix

Woman stretching hamstring.

According to AMTA, massage therapy can be even more effective at soothing joint pain when you pair it with stretches.

One way to try this is to use dynamic stretches — like arm circles or walking lunges — to warm up your muscles before a massage session.

Afterward, static stretching (deep, still poses) can help your muscles stay in their lengthened state, preventing stiffness around the joints later on.

5. Bring Some Warmth to Your Session

As a whole, heat is one of the most soothing home remedies for cold weather joint pain. It relaxes your body, alleviates tension, and widens your blood vessels – allowing for more oxygen and nutrients to reach your muscles and joints.

You can add some heat to your self-massage in a few ways. Try:

  • A hot bath or shower before your massage to warm yourself up
  • Sitting on an electric blanket
  • Applying warm towels to your muscles throughout your session

6. Pay Attention to Your Body’s Signals

Massage can work wonders when it comes to winter joint pain, but it’s key to stay in tune with your body while you use it.

For example, some people notice discomfort when trying moderate-to-deep tissue massage, but it shouldn’t be outright painful.

In addition, it’s important to work on the muscles around your joints, as opposed to the joints themselves. Too much pressure on your bones and ligaments can cause more harm than good. But by focusing on the surrounding muscles, you can encourage blood flow, relaxation, and pain relief.

7. Make It Relaxing

Many of the benefits of massage stem from the fact that it puts your body in a deep state of relaxation, which can reduce stress, anxiety, and sensations of pain. 

So, be sure to make relaxation a focal point of your massage. To do this, you can:

  • Practice deep, mindful breathing during your session
  • Turn on some soothing music
  • Dim the lights
  • Drink a cup of tea beforehand
  • Use calming aromatherapy, such as mint or lemongrass essential oils

Best Types of Massage for Winter Joint Pain

So, what are the best types of professional massage to try for cold weather joint pain? 

If you’re planning on making a trip to a masseuse, here are a few top options to consider:

Swedish Massage

Swedish massage is the most relaxing form of massage, famous for its long gliding strokes that promote healthy circulation. 

It’s also one of the most popular options for those with joint pain and arthritis — simply because it soothes the whole body without putting too much pressure on any one area. 

In a Swedish session, your therapist may use techniques like:

  • Petrissage (kneading)
  • Tapping
  • Squeezing and rolling
  • Effleurage (gliding in the direction of the heart)

Hot Stone Massage

When it comes to massage in the winter, hot stone massage is one of the best options to go for. It involves using round, smooth, heated stones to soothe the muscles and boost circulation — combining the power of heat with expert massage techniques.

Not only is it a powerful remedy for cold weather joint pain, but it also offers benefits like:

  • Relieving all-over pain and tension
  • Alleviating stress and anxiety 
  • Promoting healthy sleep

Deep Tissue Massage

Deep tissue massage uses strong, soothing pressure to work the deepest layers of muscles and fascia. People who prefer this modality describe it as intense yet relaxing, and it offers health benefits like:

  • Better flexibility
  • Pain relief
  • Breaking up adhesions and scar tissue

With these benefits in mind, deep tissue massage is fairly intense, and it may not be right for everyone. If you want to give it a try, consider scheduling a lighter massage first, and asking your therapist to mix in a few deeper tissue techniques throughout your session.

Massage for Winter Joint Pain: Safety Tips

Person receiving a hand massage.

Before you try massage for winter joint pain, here are some safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Check with your doctor first, especially if you have any prior or current medical conditions. While massage can soothe many symptoms, it may not be right for those with certain health ailments.
  • Avoid massaging inflamed, acutely injured areas, as pressure may worsen pain and inflammation.
  • Watch out for broken skin, bruises, cuts, or other skin conditions. 
  • Start light and increase your pressure gradually. This can help you get a sense of what feels good and what doesn’t. And by slowly making your way to deeper massage, you can avoid causing pain in areas that may be sensitive to pressure.

Other Home Remedies for Winter Joint Pain Relief

Massage is one useful home remedy for cold weather joint pain. But when coupled with other lifestyle changes, you can see a dramatic difference in the way your joints feel and function.

With that in mind, here are some steps you can take to keep your joints in tip-top shape all winter long:

Move Your Body

Working out can feel counterintuitive when you have winter joint pain, but the truth is that it’s one of the best ways to keep your muscles and joints healthy. More movement can help:

  • Support your bone strength
  • Improve circulation and heart health
  • Strengthen the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that support your joints
  • Improve lubrication in the cartilage of the joints
  • Increase energy and stamina levels

So, just how much exercise is enough to improve your joint health? 

Experts recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate activity — such as gentle cycling or quick walking — per week. But if you can’t do that much, that’s OK.

Don’t be afraid to start small and work your way up to an activity level that’s realistic for you. As long as you’re increasing your movement, you may notice a positive difference — even if it’s just 10 minutes of light walking per day.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Most of us know how easy it is to gain weight during the winter, and especially during the holiday season. But if you suffer from knee pain or osteoarthritis, maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do for your joints.

In fact, a 2005 clinical trial from Arthritis & Rheumatism found that dropping one pound of weight could take four pounds of pressure off the knees. 

In simpler terms? Shedding just 2-3 pounds could help you relieve 8-12 pounds of pressure from these busy joints.

Opt for Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Getting plenty of vitamins and nutrients from vibrant, colorful foods can help you decrease inflammation throughout your body. In turn, it may help reduce pain and stiffness in cold weather.

Some healthy anti-inflammatory food options include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds
  • Dark leafy greens, such as kale and spinach
  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli
  • Colorful fruits like berries, apples, and citrus fruits 

The Takeaway on Massage for Winter Joint Pain

If you’re prone to joint pain, you might’ve noticed flare-ups as it’s gotten colder outside. Whether it’s from arthritis, inactivity, or changes in pressure, the good news is that massage could help.

Massage not only improves mobility, but it also encourages healthy circulation and eases pain. And when combined with a healthy lifestyle, it provides a simple way to find in-the-moment relief.

Be sure to talk to your doctor before trying massage, especially if you have a medical condition that hasn’t been approved for it in the past. With their guidance, you can take the proper steps to start a safe routine for everyday relief.

For Restorative Winter Massage 

Start your self-massage journey by picking up the MedMassager MMB05 body massager today. Or, explore our full line of restorative massage tools here.

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