With all the outdoor winter sports that people participate in, many are suffering from cold fingers or toes. There is a medical explanation called Raynaud's phenomenon, a condition in which blood flow to the fingers and toes slows down. It is caused by cold weather, or a sudden drop in temperature, resulting in a whiteness or violations-bluish color and numbness of the fingers and toes.
When the body gets cold and the core body temperature drops, the sympathetic nerve sends a signal to constrict the smaller vessels in the fingers and toes, restricting blood to the arms and legs, and in turn increasing it to the internal organs to protect them from cold. In severe cases, there may be a breakdown in the tissue in the ends of the fingers and toes, resulting in sores which may even lead to ulcerations.
Protection in cold weather is most essential for Raynaud's sufferers but is important for everyone as unprotected skin can freeze quickly when the temperature or wind-chill is below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Frostbite is another cold-related condition. There is a real danger of frostbite to the feet when sports shoes get wet; there is less blood flow as the blood vessels close up. As a result, the skin turns white. When the skin temperature reaches 59 degrees, the body attempts to rewarm the skin by opening the blood vessels and increasing circulation to the surface. The skin will begin to feel warm, tingling and turn red. However, with further drop in temperature, the blood vessels begin to close up again. If the skin is allowed to freeze, it will be white in appearance and feel hard to the touch. If frostbite is suspected, get indoors immediately and seek medical attention if necessary.
The best treatment of cold related conditions is prevention. Dress in layers of loose clothing. Wear mittens which bring fingers closer together for added warmth. Most importantly, use polypropylene or wool socks, and use Gortex athletic shoes or spray your shoes with silicone to keep out the cold and wetness. The blood flow takes longer to get to the toes in the cold weather. Wear a hat to prevent heat from escaping the body.
Dr. Robert F. Weiss, a Sport Podiatrist, was a member of the Medical Advisory Committee of the 1984 & 1988 Olympic Marathon Trials.