Why Cold Weather Makes MS Worse and What To Do About It
Living with multiple sclerosis (MS) is challenging any time of year, but for some people, the cold winter months exacerbate symptoms like stiff muscles, muscle spasms, and difficulty moving the limbs. When combined, these factors can make even simple activities like getting dressed, preparing a meal, or turning up the thermostat challenging, especially if you live on your own.
In this article, we take a closer look at the causes of weather-related MS symptoms and provide some tips and suggestions for relieving them.
Why does cold weather exacerbate the symptoms of MS?
Researchers aren’t entirely sure why cold weather affects some people with MS and not others, but it’s thought that when the temperatures drop, the nerve activity in your brain and spine slows down.
“If a person with MS gets cold, it can impact the speed at which messages are sent along nerves that have been previously damaged,” said Conor O’Flynn, a medical professional with more than 20 years of experience and operations manager at UK-based company O’Flynn Medical. “This can cause symptoms to worsen temporarily.”
Victoria Glass, MD, a practicing doctor agrees, noting that “the cold makes MS worse because extreme temperatures affect the functions of nerves within the central nervous system.”
It’s also important to consider the impact of MS on your mental health. During the winter and early spring, “reduced movement coupled with isolation can lead to depression,” said O’Flynn. “If you’re experiencing these feelings or care for an MS patient who is, it’s important to seek professional help.”
What can someone with MS do to make the winter months more comfortable?
If you or your care recipient have MS and struggle with sensitivity to the cold, it’s crucial to maintain a comfortable temperature in your home. There are several ways to do this, including:
Dressing in layers. Instead of wearing just a t-shirt and jeans, layer up. The temperature changes throughout the day both inside and out. If you’re wearing multiple layers, you can remove or add them as needed. “Clothes will help you retain heat,” said Dr. Glass “and if it gets too hot, you can lose some layers and still remain comfortable.”
Protecting your extremities. Your feet and hands are especially susceptible to freezing temperatures. Make sure to keep them bundled up when spending time outside. “Wear thick socks, lined boots, and hand-warmers,” said Dr. Glass. “But don't place the warmers directly on you or your loved one’s skin to prevent burns.”
Warming-up with a hot meal or drink. When it’s cold outside, consider warming up with your favorite meal or beverage. Soups and stews are hearty and nutritious, while drinks like hot chocolate, hot coffee, or herbal tea can increase your body temperature and keep you comfortable.
Getting plenty of sunlight. During the winter, there’s less sunlight. Unfortunately, that increases your risk of a vitamin D deficiency, which can make the symptoms of MS worse. If you live in a climate that allows it, sit outside on the porch for 10-15 minutes or go on a short walk around the neighborhood. If that’s not an option, talk with your primary care physician about taking a vitamin D supplement.
Keeping an emergency kit nearby. If the symptoms of MS affect your mobility, making it difficult to stand up or move around, pack an emergency kit that includes supplies like a heating pad, a remote control for the thermostat, and a foldable grabber/reaching tool.
If you’re home alone and don’t have anyone to help, these products can make getting around and staying warm much easier.
Taking your medication at the right time. Taking your MS medication at the right time can significantly reduce uncomfortable symptoms. “It’s recommended you plan any trips outdoors around 30-90 minutes AFTER taking your medication,” said O’Flynn. “ This should give adequate time for the effects to kick in and be at their peak levels.”
What can someone with MS do to enhance their mobility during the winter?
Now that you know a little bit more about how to relieve the cold weather symptoms of MS, let’s look at some of the ways you can enhance your mobility.
Even though multiple sclerosis affects everyone differently, there are several activities that can make a big difference. Dr. Glass recommends:
Practicing easy aerobics exercises (This article from EveryDayHealth is a great place to start).
Enrolling in physical therapy with a qualified professional.
Enrolling in occupational therapy (if you want to increase your independence or need help with activities of daily living).
Asking your doctor about Botox treatments to reduce spasticity.
Working with a podiatrist.
You might also benefit from using a walking aid like a cane, a walker, or a rollator. To browse our selection of mobility supplies and accessories, click here.
The winter season can make living with multiple sclerosis incredibly challenging, but if you take action, gather the necessary supplies, and make an effort, it’s possible to experience a significant improvement in your symptoms.
Good luck, and as always, if you have questions about any of the products we carry here at Carewell, contact our friendly Care Specialists by calling (855) 855-1666 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chad Birt is a freelance B2B and B2C medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.