Powering Down for an MS Winter

Late October, 2019. Lower temperatures have firmly taken hold here in Michigan and my MS body is struggling to adjust. Cool evenings bring better sleep but also more daytime drowsiness and mental fog, and not only for me. The squirrels are staggering around like they raided a liquor store and can’t remember where they hid their nuts. For three days now, I’ve watched a scraggly senior male shovel out all the dirt from my patio pots looking for the walnut I saw him bury near the birdbath last week.

“It isn’t there, man,” I shout, “Believe me. You already checked it yesterday.” He cocks his head and freezes, fixing one eye on me. “It’s over there—near that big concrete mushroom,” I add, thrusting my chin in the direction of the birdbath. He suddenly jumps off the pot and scampers up a nearby pine tree. I laugh at his spazzy movements and idiotically short memory.

I shouldn’t laugh. This afternoon I tried to shove a container into the drawer of the credenza only to find it didn’t fit.

Puzzled, I glance down at a 6 x 10 inch box full of fresh greens. Self-conscious and not a little embarrassed, I purposefully open the lid and, in case anyone is watching, grab a fistful of raw spinach and stuff it in my mouth, depositing the rest on a shelf in the refrigerator where I meant to go in the first place.

Frigid temps and muscle cramping and spasms

November 11, 2019. A one-off arctic blast dumps six inches of snow on my little town in Southeast Michigan. It is still autumn and some trees haven’t yet shed their beautifully-colored leaves, but here I am, wearing full winter gear and straining to gain a foothold as I struggle out of my car. Between the frigid temps and the strain of balancing on snow, my left hamstring cramps up. I wince and sit down again, massaging the underside of my thigh. I check the time and realize I’ve missed my afternoon dose of baclofen by hours, hence the stiff leg muscles. I would have to try again, though. I carefully grab the top of the car door with one hand and the side of the car with the other, shifting some weight to the other leg, and heave myself to a standing position without cramping up again. Now I have to carefully poke my cane into the snow and walk without falling. I have an accessory for my cane tip made of pointy metal spikes that grab ice and snow without sliding off—but I hadn’t yet attached it. It is, after all, still autumn.

Stretching to ease stiffness

Mid-November, 2019. Temperatures are still below normal, but no snow predicted. The six inches that fell on the 11th sit unmelted but are now darkening from mud spatter. The parking lot and some local roads have been plowed, even though snow remains high on the driver’s side of my car where the plow can’t reach. My hamstrings are still stiffer than they were during warmer weather and I give in to the necessity of stretching them with my favorite piriformis stretch, which loosens both hamstrings and piriformis muscles. Growing easily bored and impatient, I don’t maintain and repeat stretches for as long as I should. But I resolve to do more stretching, as it works better in tandem with oral baclofen. Even better when I supplement them with a heating pad across my thighs for an hour and self-massage. For me, cold weather always makes for stiffer muscles.

Maintaining my activity level

Another winter challenge is maintaining my activity level. I wear a fitness tracker watch that counts my steps every day. Yesterday I clocked 4500 steps, the result of running some errands around town, and at home, getting up from my computer chair frequently to do dishes and tidy up my apartment. The more steps I take, the less my body hurts. If I sit too long in front of the computer, my neck and shoulders hurt. I’ve also developed wrist and thumb tendonitis from laying my hand over my trackball mouse for long periods. So it’s important that I move my body, frequently change position, and apply a heating pad when the pain deepens. This is the season when I should go back to the gym if I can’t get enough activity at home. I haven’t gone back yet, but I see it happening in the near future.

These are my challenges as I power down for an MS winter. As you can see, powering down doesn’t mean powering off. Being sedentary is not an option.

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