Life with MS

Winter Weather: Coping with the Challenges

By MS Focus Staff

As autumn’s fiery red and gold fade into winter’s gray, the skies grow dark and temperatures drop. While the plunging temperatures may bring relief to those who cope with heat intolerance, for those with balance and gait issues, spasticity, bladder dysfunction, or depression associated with their MS, the colder weather can present new challenges. How can you adapt?

First, discuss any increase in symptoms with your healthcare provider. It’s important to make sure that the difference in symptoms isn’t just coincidentally timed to the change of season and actually indicative of a relapse or period of worsening. Also, your doctor may suggest adjustments to your symptom management regimen during the cold weather months to combat certain issues.

Second, try these tried-and-true tips from others with MS to help you cope.


• Plan trips outdoors to begin 30 – 90 minutes after taking your medication, when it should be at peak effect. If you will not be back indoors before your next dose, make certain to take it with you and take it on time.

• If you are running errands or otherwise going in and out of the cold, take your time indoors. Move at a relaxed pace and allow your body to fully warm up before going back outside.

• Add an extra layer of warmth to the affected muscles. For example, if you have spasticity in your lower body, you might benefit from wearing an added layer on your legs (long underwear or leggings), even if it’s only cold enough for light layers on top.

• Your spasticity might be acting up if the cold is making you less active. Find ways to exercise – or at least gently stretch your muscles – indoors.

Balance, Gait, and Mobility

• Be conscious of the need to lift your feet higher when walking in snowy conditions. If this is difficult for you, talk to your doctor about whether exercises with ankle weights may help, or other suggestions for increasing the height of your step.

• Always select shoes with good tread. Having the ‘appropriate’ style of shoe for an outfit or occasion is not as important as getting to that occasion safely.

• If you use a cane, walker, or wheelchair, make sure it is properly outfitted for the weather. Check with your medical equipment provider to learn more about specialized ice tips for canes and walkers, trekking poles for snow and ice, and all-weather tires for wheelchairs.

Bladder Dysfunction

• The extra layers of clothing can create problems for those with bladder urgency. Practice good ‘accident prevention.’ Empty your bladder before getting fully dressed for the outdoors, and when running errands or attending appointments, take every convenient opportunity to use the restroom.

• With the winter weather comes hot beverages. Coffee, tea, and other hot drinks can be great to warm you from the inside out, but the caffeine can also contribute to bladder problems for some. Watch your caffeine intake and switch to decaf when you have consumed enough.

• Limiting fluid intake can be harmful. We all need sufficient fluids during the course of the day. But when you have a beverage, drink it all within a few minutes. While we tend to sip hot
beverages, if you sip all day, you will feel the need to go to the bathroom all day. If you drink your beverage in one sitting, you’re likely to need fewer trips to the restroom.


• If you do not typically experience depression, but find yourself consistently feeling blue during the winter months, talk to your healthcare provider about seasonal affective disorder.

• If you do experience depression as a symptom of MS, you may experience worsening with the winter season. Your doctor may suggest light therapy, the same treatment used for SAD, which involves the use of indoor lighting that simulates sunlight and is typically done at home. A variety of light therapy products, from inexpensive to expensive, are available.

• Decreased activity during the winter months can also aggravate depression. Exercise and social engagement can help.

The winter months bring challenges, but with advance planning and the help of your healthcare team, you can adapt!
Editor’s Note: MS Focus would like to thank the members of our Facebook Group for contributing their challenges and tips to this article. Join the conversation at