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Raynaud’s phenomenon and climbing.

Original Post
Francesca Parratt · · England · Joined Jun 2017 · Points: 160

Numb and painful fingertips when trying to climb in a cooler climate can be a nightmare, you can’t feel the holds, the pain effects your concentration and it can turn you into a right misery at the crag, but my passion and persistence for the sport won’t imprison me into the gym this winter!

Does anybody suffer from Raynaud’s phenomenon and have any hacks, or advise on how to minimise the effects in everyday circumstances and while out climbing? Excercises, gear, etc?

Any dietary or supplements that people take for this?

Many thanks, Francesca :)

Brian · · North Kingstown, RI · Joined Sep 2001 · Points: 720

I'm interested in anything you learn here or elsewhere.  My girlfriend has Raynaud's and can't climb outside except in the summer.  Her fingertips turn pure white.  The only solution I can suggest is avoiding the cold.  Instead of the gym jump on a plane and climb in southern Spain. We're going to El Chorro in February.  

Tom Sherman · · Bristol, RI · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 417

This topic comes up every now and then, but I don't think there's ever any solution. Since Raynaud's is essentially auto-immune (your body choosing to attack itself), there were some people who were studying ways to train your body not to do this. It involved transitioning between warm and cold.

I took some interest after a case of frostbite a few years ago. Now I have Raynaud's like symptoms on my right hand, where I had a traumatic injury about 25 years ago. AKA the frostbite now triggers this phenomenon at the site of the trauma. In the most obvious example my hand(s) get like this from ice climbing, as they rightfully should. In some of the worst cases the constriction on the fingers of tying my shoes, the vibration on my fingers from my motorcycle, or the sensation of touching something wet can each/all trigger the effect to come on. It doesn't necessarily have to be a cold-triggered phenomenon.

MountainProject - Hands Go Numb on Ice

nick r · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 0

Your capillary shunting mechanism can be re trained to be less efficient. Check out the work of Dr. Murray Hamlet. 

Francesca Parratt · · England · Joined Jun 2017 · Points: 160

I would love to go to Spain and climb out the winter, but all my funds go to adventures in the US! :)

Winter Mountaineering and ice climbing are ok because I can use gloves. (I tend to start off the day with a thicker, tighter fitting pair and once they start to get damp/ ineffective, I’ll put on a looser pair each with a hand warmer in, it gives you a heavenly feeling too). Unfortunately rock climbing with gloves just isn’t a thing.

I will check out his work, thank you.

Brian · · North Kingstown, RI · Joined Sep 2001 · Points: 720
Bn Qgly · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 0

Healthcare provider here who's wife also has Raynaud's... so also an issue near and dear to me. Having those hand warmer packets works well to get the blood flow back in between climbs (or skiing, or hiking) but doesn't solve the problem of it happening on a route. If you wanted to try a pharmacologic solution, I'm sure a doc would be willing to Rx a (relatively harmless) Ca-channel blocker to take when you climb in the cold. It's a vasodilator that will  help keep those 'lil vessels open.

Alternatively, you could try the shunt retraining method. I haven't seen/heard of anyone who has successfully used it, but worth a try and wont do any damage:

"Equipment: 2 – 4 Styrofoam coolers, 2 for hands + 2 for feet.
Warm water.
Warm inside & cool, <32°F (0°C) outside.
Fill the Styrofoam coolers with warm water, 105°F – 110°F, one set inside and one set outside.
Start inside, dressed lightly so that you are comfortable, and sit with your hands or feet in the warm water for about 5 mintues; then, get up and go outside.  Stay lightly dressed, and put your hands or feet in the warm water outside, for 5 – 10 minutes.
For this to work your body has to be able to cool off while your hands and feet stay warm.  This is the re-education process.
You have to repeat this process about 50 times.  It seems to be most effective when you do this about 5 times a day, every other day."

David Ponak · · Longmont, Colorado · Joined May 2014 · Points: 15

I've taken a small amount of the flushing kind of niacin - I usually empty out 2/3rds of a capsule because it doesn't take much for me to get a bit flushed and tingly, it has helped when doing alpine stuff. 

John Byrnes · · Fort Collins, CO · Joined Dec 2007 · Points: 577

While Reynaud's usually effects women, some men like me, have it too!     Obviously, having a warm core will help a lot.

Keep your wrists warm.  i took wool "hiking" socks and cut off the foot portion (serge the cut), leaving warm elastic sleeves about 6" long.  These go below your regular jacket sleeves and will keep your wrists warm when you reach up and the regular sleeve pulls back.

But perhaps the most effective thing is to heat one or two nice rocks on the campstove.    "Nice" meaning a round river-rock (granite preferred) of the right size: golf-ball sized or slightly smaller, that you can get your hand around.   Make them hotter than you think they should be (trial and error) and drop them into your chalk-bag on a generous bed of chalk so they don't melt the bag.   Some people use those chemical hand-warmer thingys, but they don't produce anywhere near as much heat as the rocks have.  Wrap your hand around the rock whenever you need to.   I was skeptical at first, but found it works very well for sport climbing.

eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 484

I have raynaud's syndrome. I rarely get it anymore while climbing because I choose to either aid climb or ski when it's that cold, but I often get it while skiing if I forget to put handwarmers in my gloves. Aid climbing lets me still get out on the rock when it's too cold to go without gloves.

I'm not sure about the whole auto-immune disease thing, but for me it means that my fingers lose circulation at abnormally high temps. I've had it happen as high as 50 degrees out. What I have found to help is to wear handwarmers inside gloves, and if that isn't possible then tape a handwarmer to the underside of your wrist where the blood vessels are. Also keeping core warm and staying very well hydrated

Gregger Man · · Broomfield, CO · Joined Aug 2004 · Points: 1,315

I have to deal with Raynaud's on every alpine climb. I have been most successful in warding it off by doing this:

  • most important (for me): no caffeine/chocolate/tea at all the day of the climb [this is hard because I typically drink ~4-6 shots of espresso before 8:00 am]
  • over-hydrate both the night before and while climbing
  • keep your legs and core warm (wool long johns really help)

Sometimes the rock is just too cold (especially if it is wet from melting ice - that shuts me down.)

Vaughn · · Colorado · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 50

This NY Times article discusses a training method to combat Raynaud's disease. This is the contrasting bath method which others upthread mentioned. I can't personally vouch for whether this works or not, but it's worth a try.

You might also check out Lou Dawson posted this article on his website detailing a different method which he claims works.

Third, I saw something online at one point which was basically a sleeve with a pocket which holds a chemical hand warmer against your wrist to essentially warm the blood coming into your fingers. You could look into that as well.

Andrew Krajnik · · Plainfield, IL · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 1,673

My Wife has Raynaud's, and she keeps handwarmers in her chalk bag when it's cold. She's able to warm her hands up on the route whenever she has a good resting stance.

I forwarded a link to Murray's Method to her; it's definitely worth checking out.

Gregger Man · · Broomfield, CO · Joined Aug 2004 · Points: 1,315

Another thing - aspirin seems to lessen how easily it is triggered for me.

Bn Qgly · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2016 · Points: 0
Gregger Man wrote:

Another thing - aspirin seems to lessen how easily it is triggered for me.

No explanation for why it might seem to help for you, but I'd be careful with trying aspirin for Raynauds in's a prostaglandin D2 receptor antagonist so it contributes to limiting  cutaneous vasodilation. That's why aspirin is used to stop the flushing you get with the old immediate release niacin.

Francesca Parratt · · England · Joined Jun 2017 · Points: 160

The Dr Murray’s method looks like an interesting way to climatise yourself, will be trying that once the temperature drops.

For now, I’m going to chop up some socks and strap some hand warmers to my wrists, let’s see how Sunday’s climbing in the sea cliffs breeze goes!

As for Niacin, it appears I get plenty of that in my addiction to energy drinks, although, perhaps the caffeine is not doing me any favours...

Thanks for the advice guys, much appreciated. :)

Tom Sherman · · Bristol, RI · Joined Feb 2013 · Points: 417

Ah-hah, I thought the definition of autoimmune was a phenomenon where the body causes detriment to itself by processes that are otherwise natural...

AKA body attacking itself, negative symptoms from a process that the body is mistakenly undergoing...

Turns out the actual definition is specific to bacteria or "other substances naturally present". 


Hannah Reeves · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jun 2017 · Points: 0

Hey, I have Raynaud's! It used to make climbing in anything below 70 degrees a nightmare. 

I did some research and take medication (a calcium channel blocker) for it now, and I'm finally as functional as anyone else in the cold. Something to consider? 

If you want to know more, feel free to ask. Otherwise, I also wrote a blog article talking about the whole process ( 

Raynaud's can be extremely limiting, so I hope you're able to find a solution that works. Best of luck!! 

Mike Mooney · · Silverthorne, CO · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 0

Looks like everybody has it!

Mine got significantly better after I stopped cigarettes. Slowly got better over years.

Dr Strangelove · · Bend, OR · Joined Oct 2017 · Points: 30

Is it normal for fingers to get very painfully cold when climbing on cold rock in the shade in ~45 degree weather ? 

Buff Johnson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2005 · Points: 1,145

CCB being the first-line choice. 

Another option is going the PDE5 route, which can also useful for altitude by adjusting pulmonary. As well as providing dudes the chance of happy ending.

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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