Running with Raynauds is no fun at all. From about October until March each year, despite wearing warm gloves and moving my hands a lot when I run, I always end a run with white fingers. Now, if you have never had Raynauds then you may be wondering what the issue is? Well, Raynauds Disease is very common in runners. It only started for me about four years ago, I have been running for a lot longer than this. It started in one finger and was very slight but each year it gets progressively worse. At the end of my most recent 14-mile long run, in 6 degrees, my fingers were all white – every single one.

Raynauds in Runners

Raynauds disease doesn’t just affect the fingers, it can affect many parts of the exposed skin – fingers, ears, nose, toes…

When these extremities get so cold, they get very uncomfortable. They go numb and white and can even be painful. As they warm up again they turn to purple and then eventually back to their proper colour. For those that don’t run, Raynauds can be caused by touching cold things – holding a cold drink, putting your hands in the freezer or being out walking in extreme cold.

When you are running, the length of time you are out running for can make the condition even worse. As well as being very uncomfortable, it can also prevent you doing up, or undoing your shoe laces and trying to change your clothes after a run. Fiddling around with zips etc can also be tricky.

The exact cause of Raynaud’s is still unknown, but it is believed to involve an overreaction of the blood vessels to certain triggers. Cold temperatures and stress are the most common triggers, but other factors such as smoking, caffeine, and certain medications can also contribute to Raynaud’s symptoms.

It is important to understand the symptoms and causes of Raynaud’s in order to better manage and cope with the condition while running. By being aware of these factors, individuals can take necessary precautions to prevent flare-ups and ensure a more comfortable running experience.

Who Suffers with Raynauds?

It is thought that 5-10% of people suffer with Raynauds and that is 9 times more likely to occur in women than men. To be fair, I have 3 female and 1 male running associates that suffer with it. Sometimes it’s a primary disease, sometimes it’s secondary to something else such as scleroderma, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Many don’t seek treatment and there are creams that you can acquire to deal with the condition. We are not medical experts though so would recommend if you are concerned about Raynauds that you seek the advice of a medical professional such as your GP.

How do I know if I have Raynauds?

You may be suffering with Raynauds without even realising it. If you have any of the symptoms below in your fingers, toes, ears, nose for example, you could be suffering. It’s not an issue as long as you are aware of what it is and how to deal with it. It is also quite easy to diagnose:

Symptoms of Raynauds

  • White/blue/purple fingers
  • Burning fingers
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Throbbing
  • Pain

running raynauds

How to cope with running with Raynauds

Pre-run

If you are going out running with Raynauds as a realistic possibility, the important thing is to keep warm. To stop those parts that are susceptible form getting too cold. Here are some things you can try pre-run to help.

  • Avoid caffeine which constricts the blood vessels
  • Warm your hands pre-run – place them on a heater or under warm water
  • Apply a lubricating barrier which can act as a barrier from the cold

During your run

Wear layers on your body – vest, t-shirt, base layer, waterproof coat – these can be taken off if you get too hot – better to remove layers than get too cold.

Gloves/mittens are really important. even with substantial trail running gloves, I still suffer. There are several types of gloves that are designed for colder weather such as these. It is difficult to say how much protection they will offer as it depends on the overall temperature, how long you are out, your tolerance, etc. The trick is to keep as warm as possible. Try these tips for during your run:

  • Use mittens – this tip was one of the top tips we received when asking on Reddit!
  • Wear glove liners and gloves/mittens
  • Use hand warmers however don’t apply directly to the skin – use them over a thin pair of gloves or glove liners
  • Try arm warmers and compression socks which help with circulation
  • Keep the core warm and pop on a hat to stop heat from escaping

Avoid wet feet

It’s not wise to get wet feet either but when running in the wind, rain and cold temperatures, this can be very difficult. You may want to consider getting a pair of waterproof shoes. This will prevent your feet from getting wet. Wear socks that keep the moisture away from your feet. If you don’t wear waterproof shoes, make sure you have a pair that drain well. Compression socks will also help to keep the blood circulating in the lower extremities.

After your run

This is the worst time for me. I get in the car, take my gloves off, put the heaters on, and wait for the feeling to return. I undertook a 15-minute drive home the other day, got in, and ran a bath – got in the bath and still had white fingers some 30 minutes later. As soon as I submerged my hands in the warm water, the feeling started to come back.

BE WARNED – if you have been running with Raynauds, you will be unable to feel how hot your bath is. I have jumped in, yelped and jumped out pretty quickly again on occasions. Don’t try to heat your hands up too quickly or touch things that are too hot or too cold.

Warm up gradually – don’t shock your system. Get your hands warm rubbing them together, flex your fingers, and keep moving – the circulation will come back. It’s unpleasant but it’s temporary. Here are some more tips you can try:

  • Get rid of your wet clothes – take a change of warm dry clothes if you can’t get to a warm shower straight away
  • Have a warm drink and use the cup to warm your hands
  • Do some hand and arm exercises to get the blood pumping

A recent discovery included these ‘handy’ hand warmers. I borrowed them from a friend at a cold cross-country event and popped them inside my gloves. They are good! Good enough for me to grab a pair of Amazon.

hand warmers

Living with Raynaud’s

Living with Raynaud’s can be challenging, especially when it comes to staying active. However, making certain lifestyle adjustments can help minimize flare-ups and make running more comfortable. One key adjustment is to prioritize warmth in your daily routine. This means dressing warmly even when you’re not running, as cold temperatures can trigger Raynaud’s symptoms. Layering clothing, wearing thermal socks and gloves, and using hand and foot warmers can help keep your extremities warm throughout the day.

Another important adjustment is to manage stress levels. Stress is a known trigger for Raynaud’s, so finding stress-reducing techniques such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or engaging in activities that bring you joy can help minimize flare-ups.

Additionally, it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle overall. This includes quitting smoking if you smoke, as smoking can worsen Raynaud’s symptoms. Now most runners have already kicked the habit, running may well have been the antidote to smoking. Some runners do still smoke but not only will kicking the habit help your Raynaud’s it may even help you get up those hills better. It’s also important to limit your caffeine intake, as caffeine can constrict blood vessels and worsen circulation.

It is also a good idea to consult with a health professional too, especially in severe cases to help you manage the condition day to day.

By making these lifestyle adjustments, you can take control of your Raynaud’s and enjoy running with fewer flare-ups. Remember, it’s all about finding what works best for you and listening to your body’s needs.

Be vigilant

If you live in an area where temperatures go below freezing, you need to be careful. Running with Raynauds can be a setup for frostbite due to the limited blood flow to an area. Respect this disease and don’t be dismissive. If you are going out for a long run, as well as your usual emergency supplies – phone, water, warmer clothes, etc, it is advisable to pop some hand warmers in your backpack too. Don’t get caught out.

You also need to plan ahead – if you are going out for a very long run, make sure you plan your route and have spots where you can warm up on the route if necessary. If you know of a public toilet, perhaps it has a hand drier that you can use to warm up. Don’t let it stop you running, but be prepared.