Tips for getting around in the winter

Contributed by: Michael
Reviewed by: Jonas I. Bromberg, Psy.D.

Living with chronic pain is a daily challenge. Your doctors and other healthcare providers can help you with medicines, physical therapy, and other treatments. But for coping with everyday life, the best advice often comes from other people like yourself—people with chronic pain.

Snow can be fun for kids and skiers, but getting around safely in the winter can be a daunting task when you have chronic pain – especially if your pain interferes with walking or balance.

Meet Michael. He has been living with reflex sympathetic dystrophy/complex regional pain syndrome (RSD/CRPS – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy/Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) for 25 years. He lives in a mid-Atlantic state where snow and ice are part of life for several months a year. In this Voices of Experience article, Michael shares his top strategies for moving with confidence in the winter months.

How has winter weather been a challenge for you?

I grew up in the northeastern part of the U.S., and I enjoyed snow and winter activities as a kid – sledding, snowball fights, all of that. I did all kinds of things outdoors and never gave it a second thought. But with a chronic pain condition, everything’s different. While I still prefer the cold weather over the summer heat, it’s more difficult to get around in the winter – and I have to worry about falling. Planning can also be tough because the weather can change so often. You just don’t know what the weather will be like when you wake up. Most people just need to dress warmly and pull on a pair of boots to face the day. As a person with chronic pain, I have to make extra accommodations to get around safely.

What do you do in the winter to get around safely and independently?

I have four main strategies:

  • I give myself plenty of time to get places – I build it into my planning.
  • I use a shoe/boot device that helps improve traction on snow and ice and makes it safer for me to get around outside.
  • I make sure my porch and walkways are shoveled and clear, and I use calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), to melt the snow and ice.
  • I have a self-propelled, self-starting snow-blower to help clear the snow, too.

These strategies help me feel more self-assured about going out in the winter. They allow me to be more independent, which helps my self-esteem. I’ve been declared disabled, and my self-esteem has taken a blow – so I’ve learned not to let the snow and ice get me down even more.

Building in extra time to get places has been helpful.It sounds simple, but making sure that I have plenty of time helps minimize stress.I’ve found that rushing around can be dangerous in the winter weather.

Using a shoe/boot ice traction device is a huge help. There are a few different styles that you can find online or in stores that sell outerwear. Most traction devices have a set of metal studs or metal coils that are attached to rubber straps; you can just pull them over your footwear. They create stability and grip the snow and ice as you walk. When I wear them, I’m less afraid that I’ll fall. I used to rely on a cane or the arm of a friend to keep me from falling. With these, I can go out on my own confidently.

I recommend that people pay someone to remove snow and ice from their walkways, driveways, etc. Another option is to invest in a self-starting, self-propelling snow-blower. There’s no need to pull a cord – the machine just pulls itself along. On good days, I can start it up and it pulls me along as it clears the walkways, and other days, it’s there for someone else to use for me.

I’ve also learned not to be shy about asking for help from my friends or neighbors. For example, I ask others to go with me to the store and help me haul big bags of ice-melting agents. I use calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) – it melts the ice and prevents it from re-forming. The CMA has a blue dye to indicate when it’s actively melting snow/ice; when the blue tint fades, you can apply more.

Mother Nature can raise challenges for all of us, but having chronic pain can further complicate things. The strategies that I use level the playing field a bit for me. I can move around with more ease and confidence, and do what I want or need to do – even in ice and snow.


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