Cold hands when you run outside in the winter is no big surprise but what if your fingers get so cold that they go white, numb and look like they’re dead? This is the reality for around 10 million people in the UK who suffer from Raynaud’s disease. It’s a common condition affecting more women than men and it’s a right pain for runners and anyone else who likes to be outside a lot.
What causes Raynaud’s?
In around 90 per cent of people there isn’t a cause for Raynaud’s disease, it’s just one of those things. In 10 per cent however, there is an underlying reason. Raynaud’s is associated with smoking, certain medications and people who work with vibrating power tools. Certain medical conditions are also associated with Raynaud’s, this includes conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma.
The tiny blood vessels, called capillaries, at your extremities (fingers, toes, nose, ears) become very sensitive to certain triggers such as cold, emotion and hormonal changes. These triggers cause the capillaries to narrow and constrict. This reduces the blood reaching the skin of the extremities and causes a colour change. The typical change is that fingers turn white initially and then a blue or purple colour. They also feel numb which can make it hard to stop your sports watch, use your mobile or do up your zip.
As rewarming occurs and blood returns, the skin flushes a bright red and this can be very painful.
How can I prevent Raynaud’s?
You can’t make it go away completely but you can try to avoid the triggers. Stopping smoking is really important. When it comes to fingers and running, there are a few things you can do:
- Keep your body warm. A warm core will help to keep your hands warm. Wear plenty of layers in chilly weather and don’t forget to wear a hat as you lose a lot of heat from your head,
- Get the right gloves. Look for gloves that are not only warm but also windproof. It’s often that bitter wind chill that lowers the temperature. You might find mittens are better than gloves as the fingers help to keep each other warm.
- Line your gloves. Use a glove liner to add an extra layer. This helps to trap air and insulate your fingers. Lots of liners are available so see what works for you – try silk, thermal, cotton and silver.
- Warm your gloves. Pre-warm them before you go out by putting them on the radiator. It will take longer for your fingers to chill if they’re toasty at the start of your run. Look for re-usable or battery powered warmers that you can pop in your gloves.
Remember that if your symptoms are frequent and severe that there may be treatment available to you so speak to your GP. Suddenly developing Raynaud’s after the age of thirty can be a warning sign. Similarly, if you have other symptoms with your Raynaud’s such as joint pain, swelling, skin rashes or a new onset of fatigue then check in with your GP to rule out any underlying conditions.
Raynaud’s disease is just one of hundreds of topic covered in my book Run Well: Essential health questions and answers for runners. Published by Bloomsbury and available to buy now. It’s packed with tips and advice for every level of runner.