When I was first paralyzed, we lived in Ohio. The winters there were long and cold. We didn’t get huge amounts of snow at a time, but many little ones that just seemed to keep the air wet and the ground a frozen sludgy mess. I used to not mind winter at all. I enjoyed the slower pace, and bundling up with the kids to go play.
Until my spinal cord injury…
The cold just isn’t the same anymore. At all. It is absolutely unbearable and it isn’t just me. It is very common within the spinal cord injury community. So, what’s the big deal?
Here is a brief description of why the cold is not only miserable for us, but even dangerous:
“Thermoregulation is impaired with spinal cord injury, resulting in poikilothermism (adjustment of the body temperature to the environmental temperature) because the peripheral temperature sensations cannot reach the hypothalamus, which controls temperature. Additionally, the ability to sweat or shiver to control temperature is impaired below the level of injury. The higher the injury, the greater the problem with thermoregulation. Temperature must be monitored carefully and the environment adjusted as needed. Subnormal temperatures and hypothermia (<35 C/95 F) are common. Warming blankets may be necessary to maintain adequate temperature but heavy covers should be avoided. If fever occurs, cooling blankets may be necessary. Overexposing the body, such as during bathing, should be avoided.”
If you scroll to the bottom of this post you can see a few sources I have linked to and you can read a lot of good info. But I want to keep it simple here.
Simply…it is not that we don’t like the cold. It is that our bodies literally cannot help us with getting too cold or too hot anymore.
When I get cold, my nerve pain goes through the roof. My spasms and spasticity get really bad and my body gets hypersensitive. Meaning, if you touch or move my legs wrong, you will probably get kicked and I have zero control over that. My spasticity makes my body feel like I am wrapped in very tight rubber bands from my shoulders down and makes moving extremely hard and very painful. I lose all fine motor skills.
I. Am. Miserable! Sunday morning, it was very cold here. I only left the house to go to church! Just from the that, it took me until 4:00 p.m. that afternoon to get warm! Just in time to go back out for our evening church service at 7:00! 🙂 I don’t like getting cold.
Here are some tips that we do in our family to try to help me from getting too cold. I am also providing links so you can see what I am talking about!
- Electric Blanket. This is my very favorite “warmth” tool. It is large enough to wrap my body up like a cocoon, but small enough to handle and not get stuck in. Sunbeam Fleece Heated Throw, Assorted Colors and Patterns
- Layered Clothing. Because you can overheat (even in the winter with all the trying to stay warm), it is best to dress in layers. Multiple thinner layers are much better indoors where you can add to or take away as needed to help keep your body temperature in the comfortable zone.
- Thermostat Settings. In my dream world, my house would always be about 75 degrees. But, I live with my family and I am very outvoted! However, we do have to keep our thermostat on 70 degrees. That is the absolute coolest I can stand in my own home without feeling very bad. And even at that, I ALWAYS am sitting underneath a blanket – summer and winter. It may cost a little more in electricity, but keeping home temps bearable are very important.
- Space Heater. I keep a space heater in my bedroom on my side of the bed. My hubby is hot blooded and many times needs the overhead fan on to sleep. That air hits my body like knives so I keep the blankets over my nose and a space heater in my face! Lasko CD09250 Ceramic Heater with Adjustable Thermostat Tabletop Or Under-Desk, Black
- Fuzzy socks/ Furry slippers. During the day, I wear warm fuzzy socks or furry slippers all the time. I rarely wear shoes if I am going to be home all day and I find the fuzzy socks provide more padding than regular socks to help not get pressure sores. Of course, they are both also warm which helps keep my feet warmer. (Make sure to buy at least a size larger to accommodate for the extra fur and for feet swelling throughout the day). Cozy Niche HomeIdeas Women’s Faux Fur Lined Suede Comfort House Slippers, Anti-Slip Autumn Winter Indoor/Outdoor Moccasin Shoes (5-6 B(M) US, Brown)
- Hot Tea. A hot drink warms up the insides and really helps to take the edge off the intense cold. I also like coffee, but try to keep my acid levels down. So, I mostly drink hot tea. Any herbal tea is delicious. My favorite daytime usually has a mint in it and at night I enjoy drinking a Sleepy Time Tea with valerian and chamomile to help relax my body and spasms.
- Hot Showers. If I am absolutely miserable, I will go take a hot shower. It is a lot of work to shower so I have to be really, really cold to go to all that trouble.
- My Hubby. Even if I am warm all evening, when I lay down at night, I will freeze for about 20 minutes. My theory is that the cold blood that pools in my feet and legs all day from bad circulation suddenly circulates when I lay down. It truly does feel like ice water running through my veins as it is a very deep freezing chill. My sweet hubby will put my legs and feet against his warm body heat and rub them until they get some warm blood flowing back into them! After about 20 minutes, I eventually warm up.
- Stay In. This isn’t realistic for most of us, but trying to avoid extreme temps for long periods of time is the best prevention. When you have to be out, try to make the outdoor time as short as possible.
- Warm Your Vehicle. If possible, have your car started and the heat going before you get in. The metal of a car holds in the cold and it quickly seeps in! Get the car warm before you have to get in!
- Scarf. This has been my newest find this year and I am in love! The neck is the most important area for cooling down or warming up, and I have always tried to keep my neck covered, but this big scarf has been wonderful! It is such a large scarf, I can wrap it over my head, or I can bunch it up around my neck, or I can pull it around my shoulders like a cape, or I can lay it on lap as a blanket….did I say I love this scarf? I will never have a winter again without one! Get one already! Achillea Long & Wide Scottish Tartan Plaid Large Cashmere Feel Blanket Scarf Check Shawl Wrap 80″ x 29″ (Red)
- Furry Boots. I have a very warm pair of fur-lined winter boots that zip up the side so that I can get my feet in them easily. If I know I am going to have to be out in the weather, I always wear these boots to help keep my legs and feet warmer. Regular shoes don’t seem to keep my feet as warm.
- A Blanket. If I will be outdoors, or in any place I think I will be cold (like a movie theater or something), I take a lap blanket with me. If I forget, I always regret it! I also have one in my vehicle when we travel, as my family and I don’t agree on car temps either!
- A Hoodie. I don’t do well in coats as I feel very restricted to push myself in my chair. I always wear multiple layers, and wear a large hoodie with a front pocket to keep my hands in. If the wind is blowing at all, I love having the hood to put up around my face.
- Gloves. This is the first winter I have not had to worry too much about gloves. I bought RibGrips as my wheelchair handrims. They are soft and rubbery and provide a tremendous amount of grip to push my chair. Since I don’t have a strong hand grip to push myself, these grips have been a game changer for me! When I had other handrims, they would be extremely cold and very slick in the yucky weather. When I have needed a winter glove, I have always enjoyed a football receiver glove. It is full fingered and has a rubber side which provided much-needed grip. Now that I have the RibGrips, I don’t need a rubber glove for grip. A glove for warmth if I am out is enough. www.ribgrips.com (use code AR15 for a discount!)
These are my tips and helps for staying warm this winter – inside and out! If you have any of your own tips, I would love to learn them so please share in the comments!