Cold weather can bring misery to people with Raynaud’s. Frigid temperatures trigger an abnormal response of constriction (or narrowing) of the blood vessels in the fingers, toes, nose and/or ears interrupting blood flow. As a result, fingers turn white and blue when cold, then bright red when warming and are extremely painful.
If you have Raynaud’s, you are at greater risk for frostbite and may develop sores on the tips of your fingers. You can still enjoy winter activities. Most of the symptoms can be managed with prevention and some lifestyle changes. Here are a few suggestions:
Wear gloves and mittens. Mittens tend to keep hands warmer than fingered gloves. Fingerless gloves with mitten caps are a great option and can also be used indoors as well.
Layer your clothing. Keep your body warm with layers. The Raynaud’s response occurs when the body becomes cold, not just your hands and feet. Wristies® and Limbkeepers® are two products that help with layering.
Cover exposed parts of your body. Wear a hat. Wear shirts with thumb openings or wear a Wristie® to cover your wrists. Wear a scarf.
Hand Warmers. You can buy hand warmers at a sporting goods store, or make your own cheap! Simply take a sock and fill about ¾ full with dry, uncooked rice. Tie the sock and place in the microwave for 1-2 minutes. These warmers can be reused and are portable—just slip into your pocket on the way out the door.
Avoid handling cold objects. Use insulated cups for cold drinks. Use fingerless gloves when sweeping.
Stay hydrated. When you are dehydrated, your body limits blood flow to your skin. The water in your body holds heat. You become chilled faster in a cold environment when you are dehydrated.
Manage stress. Your blood vessels naturally narrow in response to stress. Decreasing stress is an important part of managing Raynaud’s. Ways to manage stress include meditating, exercising, and breathing deeply from your belly. Studies show that coloring or doing an art project can decrease stress hormones. Meditation and deep breathing have been shown to raise the temperature in hands and feet.
Don’t smoke. Smoking narrows blood vessels.
Exercise regularly. Exercise increases circulation. Go for a short, speedy walk. Do jumping jacks. If you sit for work, stand up, stretch or windmill your arms and take deep breaths every 15-20 minutes.
Don’t feel alone if you think you have Raynaud’s. “About 5-10% of Americans are affected by Raynaud’s,” according to www.raynauds.org, a great website for more information and support. To get help with treatment, contact a hand surgeon or a certified hand therapist, who are knowledgeable about strategies for managing your symptoms.
Stacy Hite, PT, DPT, MS, CHT is a certified hand therapist and a member of the American Society of Hand Therapists (ASHT). Disclaimer: Stacy Hite has no financial interests in Wristies® or Limbkeepers®.