How cold weather affects my hand strength with CMT

As the temperature drops, I must find new adaptations

Young Lee avatar

by Young Lee |

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It’s getting colder in my corner of the United States. I can feel it in my hands.

For me, it’s not just the sensation of the chilly atmosphere nipping at my bare skin. My hand strength also seems to be drained after time spent in the cold. I’ve heard anecdotally that some other folks with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT) have had similar experiences, and I’ve read that in certain extremes, even able-bodied folks’ dexterity is affected. But it’s always been an issue for me when the temperature drops.

Because my baseline level of dexterity is already low, any further loss of hand strength can be pretty debilitating. Several recent experiences highlighted to me how frustrating this manifestation of CMT symptoms can be in my life.

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Adaptation is central to life with CMT

After walking into work one morning a few weeks ago, I struggled to grasp a Sharpie — an essential tool in the kind of library work I do. It was the same, standard-sized Sharpie I’d always used without issue. And yet I struggled to even draw a straight line with it.

More recently, my water heater broke down, meaning I haven’t had warm water for several days.

Because I hand-wash my dishes in the sink and clean my pots and pans as soon as I’ve finished cooking, I often need to wait a few moments before I can eat. Immersing my hands in cold water makes it difficult for me to grasp a fork or spoon.

I’m now bathing at my local commercial gym, but when I was taking cold showers at home, I’d struggle more than usual with buttoning up my clothing afterward.

This is just another example of the dynamic nature of managing CMT. Living with this condition means frequently adjusting to new environments and adapting to new or worsening symptoms like diminished hand strength. CMTers like me often need to find new tricks and methods for dealing with such changes.

For me, this looks like occasionally “stealing” my female co-workers’ portable heaters to warm my hands at work. Instead of viewing my broken water heater as an opportunity to take an ice bath and partake in cold exposure therapy — something that would excite many fitness influencers — I have to utilize the showers at my gym.

None of us knows what life has in store for us. For CMTers, this means that we don’t know how our symptoms might manifest in years to come. To me, this unpredictability emphasizes the importance of being open about our limitations, understanding that it’s not a sign of weakness to take care of ourselves, and seeking new ways to adapt and learn.

Note: Charcot-Marie-Tooth News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Charcot-Marie-Tooth News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Charcot-Marie-Tooth.


Barry Price avatar

Barry Price

Thanks Young Lee. I am 74, CMT1a, and have lived in N. Idaho for about 50 years. You are correct, hand and lower leg strength has a huge decease in cold weather. I am still searching for improved insulation in gloves, boots, leg warmers, insulated pants, etc. The suffering and limitation does push me to find workarounds. If I cannot pick up a screw or nut, tools do make a difference. Being obstinate and rejecting giving up goes a long way! Or, maybe I am a masochist, haha.

Sheila Flemings avatar

Sheila Flemings

Looking forward to being able to express my self with those that knows about CMT

André Turiaux avatar

André Turiaux

I have had the same experience since a few years. When my hands get cold, strength and dexterity are diminished.
To some extent, this effect remains for maybe half a day even after the hands are warm again.
I bought gloves with battery heating and this helps a lot.

Robert Thomas avatar

Robert Thomas

I notice how hard it is to fasten shirt buttons when it's cold. Which explains why I wear polo shirts most days.

Dan Knauss avatar

Dan Knauss

You know Young, that hot-cold exposure therapy is not a bad thing for stimulating nerves and muscles — and improving circulation. Even before a recent serious injury to one leg, I was starting to get swelling, and the hot-cold treatment helps all that. Bad circulation in the extremities seems to have always been along with the ride with my neuromuscular issues.


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