Ask The Doc - Multiple Sclerosis

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Question: How does the winter affect Multiple Sclerosis?

By Sarah Kailhofer, Clinical Nurse, Columbia St. Mary’s 

Many people who are diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) are aware of how their symptoms are impacted during warm weather. But many are often unaware that MS is also often affected by the cold.

A common symptom experienced by patients with MS is spasticity. Spasticity is a condition characterized by muscle stiffness and, sometimes, sudden muscular contractions. It can be very uncomfortable and can impair a person’s ability to move. Winter is a time when patients often experience an increase in spasticity. Increased spasticity may also be triggered by other conditions such as high humidity, poor posture or an illness, such as the cold or flu.

If you are experiencing increased spasticity, there are several things you can do. One important health activity for all MS patients is maintaining a regular exercise program to maintain strength and flexibility. People who experience spasticity specifically benefit from an exercise program that includes stretching and strengthening exercises. Yoga and Tai Chi are excellent exercises for people with mobility limitations to increase their flexibility. These practices also emphasize mindfulness, which has the added benefit of stress reduction.

A physical therapist (PT) is also an excellent resource to assist with spasticity difficulties. A PT can not only make sure you are doing the right kind of exercises for your particular case, but they can also evaluate you to see if you would benefit from any braces or other assistive devices to help you maintain correct body mechanics and move around safely. Columbia St. Mary’s Sacred Heart Outpatient Rehabilitation Program has therapists available who are specially trained to work with patients who have MS and other neurological problems, such as Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injuries or stroke.

Medications may also be useful to help relax the spastic muscles. Some patients will need to take these medications regularly; others may need to use them only on an as-needed basis. Your neurologist can help determine which medication and dosage is appropriate.

Lastly, it’s important for all patients to remember that as winter sets in across Wisconsin, with icy conditions outside and the possibility of wet floors inside, slips and falls are far more prevalent. Pay close attention when walking on slippery surfaces, wear slip resistant footwear, and use any appropriate assistive devices you may need such as a cane or walker to maintain your balance.

For more information, please call the Columbia St. Mary’s Multiple Sclerosis Clinic at 414-585-1771.

This article appeared in the Thursday, January 14, issue of The Ozaukee News Graphic.



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