I was recently told that I have Raynaud’s Phenomenon, a disorder in which small blood vessels constrict in the extremities and reduce blood flow. Most often it affects your fingers and toes and usually occurs when you are cold or under stress. Your fingers and toes feel numb, tingling and even painful as well as becoming discolored, white, red or blue/purple. When it first starting happening to me, I was scared. It's weird to have your fingers and toes suddenly go numb for no reason. For weeks, people have told me that my hands are freezing and even walking around the block with my dog would leave my fingers so cold they hurt. So while having something wrong is never fun, it can be comforting to know what it is. Right now it’s more annoying than anything else.
I thought that exercise would help. However, this morning while I was running my fingers went completely numb. Once again I found myself worried. A quick Google search showed me that I'm not alone. Many runners, especially those of us in colder climates, experience similar issues. According to the NY Times, “Exercising may shift blood away from the skin to the muscles. During exercise, body parts, including the hands, are in need of more blood. Even though you may feel warm, if your skin is sensing cold, then the shift to the muscles and other parts of the body may be exaggerated.” In other words, while your muscles that are working the most receive the oxygen and nutrients that they need, circulation to your extremities may be reduced. Numbness while you’re exercising might also be due to gravity. If your hands are below your heart then blood has farther to pump and is working against gravity. Furthermore, if you're not using your arms or hands then they're not helping to pump your blood.
Signs you may have reduced circulation and/or Raynaud's
- Numbness or tingling
- Discoloration red, white, blue or purplish
Exercise safely with Raynaud’s
- Warm your core temperature in addition to your fingers and/or toes.
- Increase blood to your fingers by swinging your arms in quick, wide circles.
- Remove rings, snug watches or wrist jewelry before exercising.
- Squeeze your fingers and shake your hands periodically.
NOTE: The majority of Raynaud’s isn’t serious, it can be associated with an underlying medical problem, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or connective tissue disorder. If you notice any of the discussed symptoms, please contact your primary care physician.