We’ve all experienced decreased circulation in our fingers or toes when it’s extremely cold.
It’s uncomfortable and can also be painful, but for most of us, it’s not a serious condition.
However, some people suffer from a more severe version of this common occurrence, known as Raynaud’s syndrome.
When you have appendage-threatening circulation issues, you may need to be more careful exercising in the cold.
We’ve put together our top tips for running with Raynaud’s syndrome, so you can stay safe, comfortable, and run at your best.
What Is Raynaud’s Syndrome?
Raynaud’s syndrome is a condition that causes a severe and extreme reaction of the body to the cold.
In normal cases, when our bodies are exposed to cold, little blood vessels close to the skin constrict and blood flow decreases. Our bodies want to keep the blood at its center, preserve heat in the core and keep the organs warm and safe.
This is perfectly normal and explains why most of us get stiff, cold, and sore fingers and toes in the cold! However, for those with Raynaud’s syndrome, this constricting of the blood vessels can be severe and actually cut off the circulation completely.
Even when blood flow is decreased, oxygen and nutrients are still getting to the tissues. But when blood flow is cut off entirely, the cells in the extremities aren’t getting any life-giving O2.
What Causes It?
Raynaud’s syndrome can be a condition on its own (primary) or develop as a result of other health problems (secondary).
In the case of secondary Raynaud’s, it often develops as a sort of side effect of autoimmune or blood disorders, like lupus, thyroid disorders, pulmonary hypertension, or cryoglobulinemia.
It can also be a follow-on from conditions like atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), or scleroderma (hardening of the skin).
Primary Raynaud’s, on the other hand, appears to have no specific cause. Some experts believe that excess red blood cells or platelets could cause the blood to thicken, making it hard to pass through the smaller vessels in the extremities.
Others think that the receptors in the body responsible for controlling the narrowing and widening of the blood vessels may just be extra sensitive in those with the condition.
Either way, it’s important to understand that running with Raynaud’s syndrome can aggravate the condition. Intense exercise causes the blood to move away from the skin to concentrate it in the muscles, which could contribute to the issue.
Is It Dangerous?
It’s important to note that although Raynaud’s causes a more severe circulation problem than usual, it’s not always dangerous or finger-threatening! If you take measures to prevent or mitigate the effects, you can live with the condition without threat.
However, if this occurs along with other symptoms or worsening health, you should definitely pay a visit to your doctor. There may be an underlying condition causing the Raynaud’s syndrome.
How Long Does It Last?
The symptoms of Raynaud’s syndrome pop up randomly, in “episodes”. These usually last up to 15 minutes, depending on how quickly you remove the trigger and how well you take care of the affected part!
Obviously, most of the time these episodes happen in response to the cold. Often, cold weather is the culprit, but even picking up a frozen food item can cause an episode!
Other things that could set off an attack include exercise, stress, or any kind of fright that causes the body to go into its “fight or flight” mode.
If you don’t have an underlying condition contributing to it, the sooner you get warm or lower your stress levels, the quicker the symptoms will ease up.
What Parts of a Body Are Most Affected?
The fingers and toes are most commonly affected, as they’re the furthest away from the circulatory system. But ears, lips, and nipples can also be affected!
Who Is More Affected – Women or Men?
Interestingly, women are more susceptible to developing Raynaud’s syndrome than men are. It’s estimated to affect up to 10% of female athletes!
That doesn’t mean men don’t get it, though. It can affect anyone, although primary Raynaud’s tend to affect people after the age of 30.
What Can I Do if I Have An Attack?
While prevention is better than cure, there are steps you can take when you have an attack to help speed it up so you can get back to normal.
The first step is to move to a warmer area. If you can, get indoors so your whole body can warm up. As you’re making your way to somewhere warmer, keep your fingers or toes warm by either wiggling or massaging them, adding extra layers (gloves or extra socks) or placing your hands in your armpits to keep them warmer.
You can pick up your pace a little if you’re still running, to increase heat production in the body. But there’s a chance of this having the opposite effect, as the blood moves to the muscles rather than the extremities.
When you can, dip the affected fingers or toes into warm water. Take note, the water should NOT be hot. The drastic increase in temperature can have worse effects.
Rather, a lukewarm or slightly warm bath will do the trick. Soak your fingers or toes until the pain, numbness, or stiffness eases up.
What Can I Do Before Going for a Run?
If you suffer from severe Raynaud’s, investing in a treadmill could be the ideal solution for you. You can customize the environment to make sure you never actually get cold enough to have a problem.
However, not everyone has a treadmill or can get one. Even apart from that, running outdoors is always more fun, challenging, and interesting than running on a treadmill!
Preparing yourself before you even set foot out of the house is a necessity. Make sure your gear is warm before you head out, by warming it in the dryer or laying it out on the radiator.
Layer up on the most vulnerable areas before you even set foot (or hand!) into the cold. If you don’t have these already, you should invest in:
You can layer up by adding a pair of mittens over thin gloves. Or double up on socks. Also, take advantage of things like hand warmers.
Make sure that if you’re running in the rain, you also wear water-resistant stuff, because being wet is the easiest way to get cold!
Plan Your Routes
If you know the area well, plan your route carefully. Places like public restrooms, restaurants, and businesses nearby can be spots to pop in and warm up if necessary.
If you can, try to structure your runs in such a way that you know there’s always a safe, warm place nearby. Unfortunately, trail runs can be tricky as they’re often out in the woods, which can pose a problem if you need to warm up fast.
However, with some planning, you can still manage it. Kit your car out with blankets, a flask of warm water, and extra pairs of gloves and socks in case you need to be warmed up in a hurry.
Warm Up Before Leaving Home
It’s a great idea to warm up before you actually get into the cold. That way, you’re stepping out with already-warm muscles, rather than trying to warm up in the freezing air.
You can get creative as to how you warm up at home. Running up and down the stairs, jumping rope, doing burpees or jumping jacks, or running in place are all good options that will get your heart rate up.
During the Run
Keeping your fingers and toes warm during a run can be challenging. As you run, you’ll start to feel warmer and can remove your layers as needed. However, removing your gloves can leave you open to an attack if they’re exposed to wind or cold air.
Make sure that whatever layers you do remove, you take care to keep your core warm. This could lessen the effects of Raynaud’s, because if your core is warm, the body may not need to reduce blood flow to the extremities so much.
Don’t forget to cool down after your run. Spend a few minutes slowing down or doing some dynamic stretching.
The biggest mistake you can make after a run is to warm up too quickly. It sounds strange, but going straight from cold to high heat can worsen vasodilation problems and cause chilblains.
Once you arrive home, spend 15 or 20 minutes resting and relaxing in a moderately warm spot. Don’t sit next to the fire, turn on the heater, or get into a hot shower.
Rather, make yourself a warm drink, layer up with warm, dry clothing, and keep the temperature moderate. After 15 to 20 minutes of allowing your body to adjust, you should be sufficiently warm.
You can now have a cleansing shower (at a moderate temperature) and you should be safe from an episode and chilblains!
How Long Should You Run?
Short, intense runs will be a better choice than long ones if you suffer from Raynaud’s syndrome.
Interval training or threshold sessions are a great form of training that will get your heart rate up without exposing you to the cold for too long.
Why Should Long Runs Be Avoided?
Once you’ve warmed up, you can run for half an hour to an hour before your body’s energy stores begin to deplete. As your energy stores decline, your body starts to get colder.
When you’re exercising, your blood vessels constrict and send the blood to the muscles. That means there’s less blood flowing through your fingers and toes, so you’re already at a bit of a higher risk of having an episode.
When you add a long run to the mix, you’re only increasing your chance of having an episode as your body becomes colder.