Running & Raynauds

What my fingers look like during a Raynaud’s attack – yes, it is as painful as it looks!

When I first started running outdoors, conditions had to be my “ideal”. That meant 60s and clear, no wind. I quickly learned that if you want to run outside in Rochester, you need to be able to adapt to the elements. Since then, I have run in all sorts of conditions, ranging from extreme humidity to drenching rain, frigid cold and 40 mph+ winds. The hardest weather for me to run in is the damp and cold. I have what is known as Raynaud’s phenomenon.  This is a “disorder of small blood vessels that respond excessively to stimuli which causes poor blood flow, usually in the fingers.” Basically, I get “attacks” which are excruciating events where my fingers lose circulation and turn white. They are VERY painful.

People think I am wimpy when I explain why running in the cold is so hard for me, but if they experienced these attacks, they would feel differently. I get more of these attacks in the Winter, but I also deal with them in the Summer. Stress can be a trigger as well, and since I am a nervous/anxious type, this makes my attacks more common. There is no cure for Raynauds, although I have heard of some people who no longer have the condition when they get older. I am hoping that is the case, although my symptoms seem to be increasing with age.

I have had a Raynauds attack during a race and it was awful. I have also had Raynauds attacks before and after races, most recently after the Wineglass Half Marathon. After running over 2 hours in steady rain with temperatures in the 30s, I knew that an attack was inevitable. Even non Raynauds sufferers had issues with their hands after that race. I literally could not pick things up, my hands were a purplish/white and throbbing. The conditions (see sign below) were the perfect breeding ground.

In my research, I have found that many runners have Raynauds. You need to be very mindful of running conditions and attire when you have this chronic condition. Preventing attacks is key.

This means:
1) wearing gloves (often when others are not and look at you like you are strange)
2) wearing hand warmers
3) having other gloves to change into when you are done running

If you do have any attack, there are things you can do, such as:
1) Running your hands under warm water to help bring them back to normal
2) Move your arms in a windmill type motion (to increase circulation)
3) Medication. My doctor prescribed medication – but the main function of the pills was to lower blood pressure, helping Raynauds was secondary. I don’t have high blood pressure, and I did not like the side effects (dizziness) so I opted not to take them. Consult with your own doctor if you have questions.

Bottom line – if you have Raynauds and you run (or even if you don’t), it is all about prevention. Stock up on hand warmers (hint – dollar stores have the best deal on them), get one of those pillows you can microwave and place on your hands, wear layers to keep the rest of your body warm, get into dry clothes as soon as possible after running (not just your gloves) and try to remain calm (that is the one I have the hardest time doing). You may also want to wear mittens instead of gloves, as I find they keep hands warmer. To learn more about Raynauds, click here:
Running with Raynauds is a challenge, but hopefully these tips will help you. Stay warm out there! Cheers to the next Raynauds attack free race (fingers crossed!) 🙂

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9 Responses to Running & Raynauds

  1. Chris says:

    Just had an attack last night. Ugh……The pic above could have been my hands. Stay warm:)

  2. Runner says:

    These are some excellent tips! Several of which I follow myself.

  3. Liz says:

    Looking for suggestions and/or comments.

    I am 56 years old and have been diagnosed with Raynaud’s. During the winter months I did not run unless the temperature was about 50 degrees and looked forward to spring and summer but this summer has presented some new issues with regard to numbness in finger and toes. It seems that the temperature does not have very much to do with setting off my hands and toes. The temperature could be 75+ and a slight breeze sets it off. I concentrate on whatever music I’m listening to while running; however, sometimes the numbness is up to by thighs. It makes for a challenging run because i need to overcome that I can’t feel my legs and talk to myself that all is well. My legs are there and its fine.

    Would welcome any insight

    • runkiwirun13 says:

      Hi Liz
      I get attacks in the Summer too – it sounds like the wind is a trigger for you. Maybe you won’t be able to run on those breezy days? Or, have your hand warmers with you? I know I read that vibrations can also trigger an attack. Being in air conditioning also causes issues. Have you ever heard of this association? They have great info and products that can help. They are on Facebook too. And, of course, let your doctor know about knew symptoms…. hope this helps a little.

  4. Erin says:

    I have secondary Raynaud’s and am a runner too! I have a lot of trouble running in the fall/winter. But I also have it in my feet. I wish there were a medication to take other than blood pressure medicine. I already have low blood pressure (normally 100/55) so I wouldn’t ever be able to take it.
    Some things I have found that help are to avoid caffeine and to take fish oil!

  5. So here is my thing running in cold never gonna happen for me because my lungs are affected and now because of that damage I have asthma. I want to share that you need to be careful about your lungs running in such cold. Mines is Primary. I have had it 26 years now. I was 12 when I developed it and 17 when I was finally diagnosed. I have all 10 fingers and toes. I am thankful for that. I was stupid and when I moved up to Ga from Fl I never thought about the air I breathed into my lungs and how that would affect me. I am impressed that you do run and I hope that you continue to be able to run without complications. Just remember to be careful.

  6. runkiwirun13 says:

    Thank you for your comments Erin & Brycen! I’m really fortunate in that I don’t have Raynaud’s symptoms in my feet or asthma. I can imagine how difficult that must be. Hope people scroll down to see your comments 🙂
    P.S. I may try fish oil too – although I hate the aftertaste. I have heard about avoiding caffeine which I do anyway since I also have insomnia. Good tip, thank you for sharing!

  7. You’ve precisely hit the nail on the head with your entire post.

    Worst running conditions: rain + cold + wind.
    Best precautions: gloves + change of gloves (the ones I wear during a run become wet from sweat, or rain).
    Afterwards: change as quickly as possible into many dry layers.

    I have found the microwavable wheat bags a godsend, and as a result of these and the other approaches have not experienced an attack for two winters.

    I think that if you can prevent an attack, it makes future attacks less likely.

    Good luck!

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