Raynaud’s Syndrome affects up to 20% of the adult population worldwide. There may be as many as 10 million people with the condition in the UK according to the NHS.
It’s a condition that affects your blood circulation and causes some areas of your body to feel the cold very easily, even going numb or changing colour, most commonly in the hands and feet. The cold, anxiety and stress aggravate the condition. They can ’seize up’ and it can be hard to gain back your full hand dexterity until they’re warm once more. The main concern for people with Raynaud’s is damage to the skin tissue. If tissue damage is severe, fingers and toes may need to be removed.
Current treatment options on the NHS include drugs that relax and open small blood vessels in your hands and feet, reducing the severity and number of attacks in most people with Raynaud’s Syndrome. However, the side effects include skin flushing of the face, headaches or dizziness because they open the blood vessels – everywhere.
Although it may seem like the absolute opposite of ‘advised treatment’ as a common aggravator – the cold can actually be instrumental in reducing symptoms.
This is because when introduced to cold, your blood vessels have to constrict and cold water causes your blood to rush to your internal organs to help them stay warm, which promotes blood flow, improving circulation when repeated.
Wim Hof himself dedicated a chapter in his book to using the cold to improve the symptoms of Raynaud’s. A suggested practice is to submerge the affected area in ice-cold water for increasing periods of time, starting from 30-60 seconds and building up to ten minutes.
Cold showers are an easy and accessible way to harness the benefits of the cold. After a warm shower, turn the lever and stand for 30 seconds or longer. Ensure that the affected areas get a direct flow of cold water for the capillaries to be able to feel the effects.
Whilst this is an uncomfortable process, the long-term goal is to reduce discomfort in many more daily situations. Enduring discomfort builds mental resilience and there are many other benefits from quicker recovery after a cardio workout to improved focus. People who regularly expose themselves to the cold show a reduction in stress and depressive symptoms thanks to the norepinephrine (also known as noradrenaline) cold exposure stimulates the release of, by 530%.
If you are struggling to retain your body temperature after exposure, lower the duration and/or temperature and more gradually as your body acclimatises. It’s not a race, and for Raynaud’s sufferers especially, keep it fun!
Check out our other blogs if you’re thinking of giving cold exposure therapy a go!