Woman with cold hands

Is This Serious? Why Are My Fingers Always Cold?

Matt Mascola Is this serious?, Limb pain

 

You may remember our post about pinky finger numbness. Well, here we’ll discuss a more debilitating condition that may cause your fingers and toes to change colour, feel extremely cold, or be painful with tingling.

While many conditions can cause your fingers and toes to feel cold, we’ll focus on one cause, Raynaud’s phenomenon. Raynaud’s phenomenon is often an extreme response to either cold temperatures or emotional stress. While other body parts such as your ears and nose can be affected by Raynaud’s, we’ll focus on Raynaud’s of the fingers because it is the most common, and many of the symptoms, causes, and treatment techniques can apply to other parts of the body.

Symptoms

You might be here because you’re wondering “why are my fingers always cold?” or “why are my fingers always swollen?” or “why are my toes always freezing?”. These are some of the main symptoms of Raynaud’s, a condition marked by extreme sensitivity to cold temperatures and stress. Raynaud’s causes a sudden constriction of the small blood vessels located in your extremities which is why it can affect fingers, toes, noses, or ears. This contraction is called vasospasm. Common symptoms include:

  • Ice cold fingers and/or toes
  • Numbness
  • A change in colour of the fingers when exposed to cold temperatures. This colour change has many stages:
    • white (pallor)
    • blue (cyanosis)
    • red (rubor)
  • Pain in the fingers characterized as a tingling or “pins-and-needles” sensation
  • Swelling or enlargement of the fingers

Causes

The most common cause of Raynaud’s is blood vessel constriction caused by cold temperatures or strong emotions (such as sadness, or sudden surprises), which blocks blood flow to the fingers. Often, people refer to this condition as being “allergic to the cold.” While this isn’t quite that accurate of a comparison, it can be a very disruptive and noticeable effect of being exposed to cold temperatures!

Now you might be asking yourself, “why do I experience this and other people don’t?” Well researchers have found that Reynaud’s is most predominant in women under the age of 30. They have also found genetic ties to family medical histories such as artery disease and autoimmune conditions. A recent systematic review by Garner et al. (2015) found two interesting correlations:

  • Migraine sufferers are 4x more at risk of developing Raynaud’s
  • People who use heavy tools and vibrating equipment in manual labour have 2.7x increased risk of developing Raynaud’s

Treatment

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should seek an assessment from a physiotherapist. Seeking treatment is very important! If left untreated, there is a 10% chance that Reynaud’s will progress into a secondary, more serious, condition. Non-surgical physiotherapy-focused treatments for Raynaud’s phenomenon include:

  • Soft tissue release of the structures surrounding your blood vessels can help improve blood flow
  • Activity modification: Your physiotherapist can work with you to help manage your Raynaud’s and limit discomfort by:
    • Workplace adjustments
    • Homecare modifications
    • Unique personal tips designed specifically for you

Don’t let your cold fingers turn into something more serious, seek the care of a qualified physiotherapist today!

 

 

About the author
Matt is a 1st-year physiotherapy student at McMaster University. When he’s not busy being an intern here at pt Health, he enjoys gymnastics as well as playing hockey and soccer.

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