Tips for Managing Neuropathy During Winter

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Staying warm and healthy during the winter can be challenging for anyone in most parts of the country, but it can be especially difficult for cancer patients, particularly those who may be experiencing treatment-related neuropathy.

Peripheral neuropathy is a temporary or long-lasting nerve problem that may occur as a result of certain chemotherapy drugs.  It can cause pain, numbness, tingling, or loss of feeling, usually in the hands or feet, making snowy weather and freezing temperatures all the more challenging.

Clare Sullivan, BNS, MPH

Clare Sullivan, BNS, MPH

“Peripheral neuropathy occurs from certain treatments affecting the nerves in the body, especially the nerves that sense pain, heat, cold, touch, balance, and fine motor movement,” says Clare Sullivan, BSN, MPH, clinical program manager, Patient Education at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, who urges patients with neuropathy to take extra precautions in cold weather.

If you experience numbness in the hands and feet as a result of cancer treatment, consider these tips from Sullivan:

  • Keep hands and feet warm and dry
    Invest in good, warm gloves and extra socks during the winter. Layers will help keep your hands and feet dry, which may help ease numbness in colder weather.
  • Wear boots with traction
    This will create an extra layer between your feet and the snow or ice, giving you additional protection against the elements, while helping keep you steady on slippery ground and prevent falls.
  • Dress warm
    Wear a warm coat with thick padding to protect your body, especially your lower arms. Staying warm will help maintain circulation to and from the hands, and may lessen pain and help maintain your range of motion.
  • Walk with hands out of pockets
    Keep your hands free and stretched out to prevent falls and protect yourself when they do occur. Rather than confining your hands to your pockets, which can create cramping and increase the likelihood of falls, wear warm gloves and keep your hands free instead.

View this Dana-Farber Slideshare presentation to learn more about neuropathy diagnosis, treatment, and management from Cindy Tofthagen, PhD, ARNP, an assistant professor of nursing at the University of South Florida, and post-doctoral fellow at Dana-Farber and the University of Massachusetts.

8 comments

  1. Tina says:

    I have Peripheral Neuropathy in both feet. I’ve notice now the numbness I have is up alittle pass my ankles now. When I went to see my dr.today was my regular 3month checkup & I mention to her that I have notice the numbness has moved up pass my ankles & my dr. told me that would happen & there is nothing I can do… I also have Primary Lymphedema in both legs & my walking is very short very little walking due to the pain…Thanks Tina

  2. SUE LEARY says:

    It’s been raining here in Connecticut for a couple days now which causes me to have pain levels at 8-9 even with pain meds.I wear 2 pairs of soft socke all day and to bed ,the compression from the sock gives some relief even though my feet feel like blocks of wood or ice at times,my circulation is good though.Wear the socks to bed if you can handle it,cold sheets make them cramp up bad without socks.Stay Warm God Bless

  3. Inez says:

    I have found that warm wet heat helps–microwaveable heating pad. I also have acupuncture about 2 times a month and I think that helps too. Cold and damp is the worst. And yes, socks in bed and keeping warm.

  4. cathy says:

    ONE OF THE MOST EFFECTIVE WAYS I MANAGE PERIHPERAL NEUROPATHY IS LOTION — THE ACT OF RUBBINGyour hand together and keeping them moist helps to stimulate blood flow to the nerves and also stimulates the small nerves themselves, helping to alleviate the neuropathy.

  5. cathy says:

    Is it possible to get someone to write these tips who is actually dealing with the side effect? Not sure the contributor has experienced this side effect as the suggestions appeared very generic.

    • Ed says:

      I have been dealing with it every day, much more on colder days and even more each day as the sun sets in the evening. I have been doing everything Clare Sullivan has suggested long before I read of those suggestions just as common sense practices and I think they do help. I even resort to wearing golf gloves quite often around the house if I’m not being active, i.e. reading or watching TV.
      I find the best thing is to keep moving, being active in any way seems to help a lot, plus I think of what could have been. It’s a pain but we’re lucky.

    • Dana-Farber says:

      Dear Cathy –
      Thank you for your comment and suggestion. Our tips come from Clare Sullivan, BSN, MPH, Dana-Farber’s clinical program manager for patient education. Sullivan works with patients regularly on managing their symptoms of treatment. However, we are always interested in hearing first-person patient experiences. If you — or any reader — has specific tips or advice to share, I’m sure that would be very helpful for our blog readers. Please share them here, or email us at communication@dfci.harvard.edu. I wish you all the best.

  6. Madeline - Nena says:

    i don’t experience numbness in my feet. what i do experience is pain and burning which only seems to occur at nite when i’m in bed. i can be awake or asleep and there seems to be no pattern to it. it has been about 3+ years since my chemotherapy.
    THE ONLY THING THAT WORKS FOR ME IS:
    get out of bed, and head to the room with the coldest floor. in the SUMMER that would be a TILED FLOOR – bathroom, kitchen. the WINTER is so much easier..ALL MY FLOORS ARE COLD!

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