Cold hands can be unbearable for runners during the winter months. Not only can cold weather lead to Raynaud's, but arthritic conditions are also particularly susceptible to cold weather, making it hard to manipulate fueling packets, zippers, fasteners, GPS watches, and audio controls. Keeping hands warm and operational during training is crucial to ensure peak performance and enjoyment during cold weather runs.
What is Raynaud's?
Raynaud's can be divided into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary Raynaud's, the most common, has no known cause. It typically affects women more so than men and often presents in people in their mid-30s and younger. Secondary Raynaud's is usually related to another health concern or autoimmune disease. It's vital that runners with an underlying health condition, and experiencing symptoms suspected to be Raynaud's, receive consultation from a health professional because continued exposure to cold weather can cause damage to blood vessels of the hand and wrist.
Raynaud's is a result of the body's attempt to protect itself from the cold by restricting blood flow to the limbs and surface of the skin and redirecting blood deeper within the body to maintain core temperatures.
Raynaud's tends to be more prevalent in the fingers and hands of runners, but it can also present in feet, which is why it's so important to dress appropriately for the elements. Symptoms can develop quickly once the body is exposed. Once superficial blood vessels constrict (narrow), it can take a while for adequate blood flow and warmth to return. Runners may observe coloration changes in their fingers and hands. The numbness and stiffness that follows can make it difficult to manipulate objects while on the run.
Image by: Harvard Health Publishing
After symptoms of Raynaud's have set in, it's essential to warm the affected parts of the body slowly. It's common to experience tingling, swelling, and burning sensations as blood flow returns. After returning from your run, begin by running lukewarm water over the affected area. Slowly increase the temperature of the water as the tingling and burning sensations subside.
How to prevent Raynaud’s
Proper gloves and layering are a must when training in cold weather. While many running gloves boast the ability to protect runners from elements, be mindful that gloves are often designed to protect in specific circumstances, and one pair of running gloves won’t adequately protect runners throughout all the weather variations of the winter season.
Considerations before you purchase running gloves?
Gloves vs. Mittens
Gloves offer the most versatility and dexterity and are ideal for training sessions that require manipulating fueling packets and GPS controls. However, gloves are historically less insulated and provide less warmth than mittens. In weeks leading up to the winter season, gloves may be perfect for mild, chilly temperatures, but runners with a history of Raynaud’s still might need to consider using mittens or mitten variations to protect from the elements.
Mittens offer the most significant amount of insulation and warmth but at a considerable loss of function. While mittens may be an excellent option for short training sessions, for runners planning to be out for long periods, it may become difficult and time-consuming to continuously remove mittens to access necessary items. This is why some athletes opt for lobster gloves or flip-back fingerless options.
Lobster vs. flip-back fingerless gloves
Lobster gloves hit the scene several years ago and offer the unique blend of a glove style for the thumb and index finger or index and middle finger while providing mitten protection for the other fingers. While this helps significantly with versatility, the exposure of the index finger leaves it vulnerable to Raynaud’s.
Flip-back fingerless gloves combine fingerless gloves with mitten protection. Runners can easily peel back the shell for increased dexterity and then return the shell for added protection from the elements.
When narrowing down the type of gloves or mittens you decide on purchasing, it’s good to consider the weather conditions you anticipate. Wind and rain can both trigger Raynaud's symptoms, as well as cold. While most manufacturers are clear about wind and rain protection, what's not as clear is the breathability of the additional layers. With the extra layers, the moisture-wicking capabilities of fabrics are often reduced. Be mindful that once you begin to sweat during training, trapped moisture within your gear can increase the risk of cold exposure. Testing your gear before any competitive event is a must.
Raynaud's in feet for runners
While Raynaud's in hands is more notable, Raynaud's symptoms in feet often go unnoticed until a runner removes their shoes and socks following a workout or training session in cold weather. Even though feet and toes are snuggly fit into socks and shoes, they can quickly become exposed to cold weather due to the mesh upper and breathability of most training shoes. This is why it's important to be mindful of the types of socks you wear and how long you're going to be training in the elements.
Opt for socks with Smartwool technology in a crew cut to maximize protection and moisture-wicking ability.
Once you return from your run, use the same approach to warm the feet as you did with your hands. Tingling, swelling, burning, and throbbing sensations may be present in the feet as well.
If you're still struggling with finding the appropriate gear to keep warm during the winter months and/ or Raynaud's symptoms increase or don't alleviate within a reasonable amount of time, it may be worth consulting with a primary care physician to better assess circulation and blood flow to extremities.
1. Raynaud’s Phenomenon | National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/raynauds-phenomenon#:~:text=Raynaud's%20phenomenon%20is%20a%20condition,as%20the%20ears%20or%20nose.