Cold fingers and toes? Raynaud’s Syndrome

Have you ever noticed in winter weather or cold temperatures that the color changes in your fingers, toes, and/or nose?

If it is also accompanied by numbness or a freezing sensation, you may be part of the estimated 8% of people in the United States with Raynaud’s Syndrome.

What is Raynaud’s Syndrome?

Raynaud’s syndrome (also known as Raynaud’s phenomenon, Raynaud’s disease) is a medical condition that most commonly occurs in the fingers and toes, in which the small arteries spasm causing decreased blood flow and color changes in fingers and toes.

Initially the skin will turn white (pallor) due to lack of blood flow and then blue (cyanotic). When blood flow returns, the fingers will tingle and sometimes throb and become bright red before returning to normal. Effected areas can turn blue, stiff, tingle (“pins and needles”), throb, and be just downright painful. It can last for just minutes or sometimes hours. Episodes of Raynaud’s are typically triggered by cold temperatures or stress.

Types of Raynaud’s Syndrome: Primary and Secondary

Primary Raynaud’s is the most common and usually less severe. Cause is unknown, but is thought to be hereditary. It typically occurs in females with onset ages 15-30.

Secondary Raynaud’s is a result of other conditions such as arthritis, lupus, other autoimmune disorders, prolonged vibration activities, and previous hand injuries. Secondary Raynaud’s have a later age onset and can be more severe.

Diagnosis of Raynaud’s Syndrome

If your doctor suspects you have Raynaud’s phenomenon, she will ask you some questions about your symptoms, medical history, and examine your fingers and toes. They might also order tests to rule out other medical problems that can cause similar signs and symptoms, but no one blood test can definitively diagnose Raynaud’s.

Treatment for Raynaud’s Syndrome

Unfortunately, there is no cure for either type of Raynaud’s Syndrome. Secondary Raynaud’s is managed by treating the underlying cause, but both types of Raynaud’s symptoms is focused on controlling the severity and frequency of episodes through self care habits.

5 tips to help manage the most common primary Raynaud’s symptoms:

  • Keep the hands and feet warm (silver gloves, battery powered heated gloves, wool or silver socks, use hand/foot warmers inside gloves for cold outdoor activities, use insulated sleeves to hold cold drinks, pot holders when removing food from a freezer, and heated steering wheels can help combat episodes)
  • Exercise (performing finger exercises, arm circles, ankle pumps, toe scrunches, stationary bike, or choose your favorite aerobic exercise) Get moving!
  • Massage the fingers or toes to promote blood flow
  • Warm water soaks or using a moist heat pack or microwaveable hand mitt to hands/feet to increase circulation
  • Managing emotional and environmental stress (practice stress reducing techniques like deep breathing, meditation, yoga)
  • Smoking cessation (or other nicotine products)

Physical therapists can utilize numerous modalities to generate heat and help to stimulate blood flow. By teaching the patients exercises to stimulate blood flow, physical therapists and/or hand therapists help to prevent or reduce the frequency of onset of symptoms.

 If any of these signs, symptoms, or limitations sound familiar to you – we encourage you to have your condition evaluated by a Certified Hand Therapist at one of our 10 Greater St. Louis area locations offering hand therapy services. We understand the physical and emotional toll that accompanies these injuries.

For more information and to customize a home exercise program, contact an Axes Hand Therapist.

Julie Freiner is a certified hand therapist at axes physical therapy in o'fallon, mo.

To schedule an appointment with Julie or any of our expert physical therapists, request an appointment online today.