I cover this topic every year as new readers sign on.
Although it’s not yet October, we in Virginia have had our first snow of the year. I think it’s a good time to start this year’s discussion of cold hands, Raynaud’s Syndrome in some cases.
Raynaud's is pretty common. Many will have it as an isolated phenomenon and in others, it accompanies a more global process. Those affected will have more issues in the cold conditions than warm, their fingers will have decreased sensation and turn white, almost snow white, on occasion. When placed in modestly warm water for 2 or 3 minutes, the digits re-warm and turn every shade of red and purple you can imagine before simply settling on only mildly red. Once warm, starting a car is easy.
If you want to document this, next time it occurs, start taking pictures with your cell phone, and save them for your health care provider. You will asked about a family history of certain kinds of arthritis, bowel disease and the like. You may find that your complaints are the same (or different) but it's a good starting place.
My sister and I both have this to a greater or lesser degree and I think I'm the biggest purchaser of chemical hand warmers at our local backpacking store. But, I ride outdoors all year unless there's snow or ice on the road. Cold water swimming, however, can present a certain challenge!
For those readers who may not know (or who may have it and wonder) Raynauds Syndrome is the discoloration and numbness of the fingers that many adults see in response to cold (or sometimes changes in emotion.) The finger whiteness discussed above, sensory disturbance, and even pain, make them pretty useless when trying to type or any other fine motor activity. In a few minutes, as the fingers begin to warm, they turn blue then a purple-red with a "pins and needles" feeling before they normalize. This whole process can take from just a few minutes to an hour and can be quickened by immersing ones hands in warm water as noted above. Or stick them in your pants. Women seem to get this more than men, 2nd to 4th decade of life. There are medical answers to this, and especially medicines to avoid, which might increase the frequency of attacks.
That said, I've had it for 30 years, my Mom longer, so it's easy to follow long term. And mostly we just live with it. I use chemical hand and foot warmers biking in the winter, and when it's below freezing I have some Sidi rechargeable warming inserts for my winter biking boots (they're not cheap and don’t work all that well - read don't waste your money). It's all just a matter of preparation. So, welcome to the world of Raynauds Syndrome, it's an inconvenience but not much more.
A number of readers have had excellent posts about how to solve the cold hands problem that can accompany winter riding. Excellent suggestions have come forth about a variety of different types of gloves/mittens/socks, chemical hand warmers, etc. Some athletes have simply chosen to ride indoors until the bloom of Spring and give those Computrainers a work out. If, however, you want to stay outside all winter, depending upon your climate, some alterations may be in order to remain comfortable.
As we've noted here before, a surprising number of athletes suffer from Raynaud's Syndrome, a spasming of the small arteries in the digits, often when cold. About 5% of men and 8% of women have Raynaud's and it can affect ears, toes, and even your nose.
So, to remain comfortable we have to remain warm. All it takes is a little trial and error. Well, maybe a lot of trial and error. I'd suggest you start by putting a thermometer outside your window to get an accurate temperature before you venture out. It's better than the Weather Channel as you may live a real distance from where they get their measurements. Then, get an idea of what gloves, layering of gloves, mittens and layering/lining of mittens you need at 50 - 55 degrees, 40 - 45 degrees, etc. If your mittens are so bulky that you may lose control of the bike, figure out something else. A reader from last year noted that the important thing was not to layer each digit as you might do with shirts and coats, but to provide a “den” for the fingers. Mittens, more than a single layer, with touching digits and some type of warmer seemed best for him. One thing that many over look is a product called Bar Mitts (they also have Mountain Mitts for your mountain bike.) These are sleeve-like neoprene that fit right over your handle bars and block cold, rain and snow...not that you'll be riding outdoors on 23 mm tires in the snow. I hope. You don't even need very thick gloves to stay toasty. I'll admit that they may look a little dorky but the bike group conversation will quickly move on to something else and you keep your hands warm. I'll attach a couple pictures from a local riders bike.
Reader Darkwave added these very useful comments: I've found disposable hand warmers to be essential for winter running -- I start using them when the temperature drops below 50. For running races, I wear thin gloves, then hand warmers, and then socks over both. If I heat up too much in the race, I can toss the socks or even the hand warmers.
As always, please share your experience and comments