Raynaud's and Open Water Swimming

Raynaud's and Open Water Swimming

Raynaud's phenomenon, sometimes known as Raynaud's disease or syndrome, is a condition named after the French doctor Maurice Raynaud, affecting up to 20% of the adult population worldwide.

What exactly is Raynaud's?

When exposed to chilly temperatures, the body's extremities—such as fingers, toes, ears, and nose—begin to lose warmth because the small blood vessels near the skin's surface constrict. This is a natural reaction to slow blood flow and maintain core body temperature.

However, for those with Raynaud's, these blood vessels are overly sensitive and constrict excessively in response to cold or emotional stress, markedly reducing blood flow and leading to noticeable symptoms.

Raynaud's comes in two main types: 'Primary' Raynaud's, which is idiopathic or without a known cause, and the less common 'Secondary' Raynaud's, often linked to other diseases, injuries, or certain medications. Although Secondary Raynaud's can lead to more severe problems, such complications are rare. The primary form remains the most prevalent.

Symptoms: Appearance and Sensation

Skin discoloration is a hallmark of Raynaud's; affected areas turn white or blue when blood flow is limited and later redden upon its return. Symptoms vary and can include numbness, tingling, mild throbbing to intense pain, and can last from minutes to hours.

Managing Raynaud's during Open Water Swimming

We collected insights from open water swimmers who have Raynaud's and braved cold waters regularly. Marian, who began her journey into cold water swimming at 62, has been swimming year-round for eight years. Then there's Mike, who has been ice swimming across the globe for over four decades.

Please note, the below tips are based on personal experiences and are not medical advice. Each Raynaud's case is unique; consult with your healthcare provider if health concerns arise.

Before entering the water: "Preparation is paramount."

- Dress for the swim before you leave home to reduce heat loss while changing on-site.
- Keep your hands warm en route; wearing your regular gloves may be more practical than donning neoprene gloves in advance.
- Change in sheltered areas, away from the wind, possibly where facilities are available.
- Hydration is key; drink plenty of fluids to maintain optimal blood flow.
- Some find that taking arnica, typically used for bruises and muscle aches, boosts circulation.
- Warm up with jogging in place, breathe deeply, and stretch to prime your circulation.
- Sildenafil citrate is sometimes prescribed for Raynaud's to improve blood flow.

During your swim: "Heed your body's signals."

- As temperatures drop, wear thermal neoprene gear to insulate your extremities.

- Oxygen consumption shifts in cold water; listen to your body and cut your swim short if necessary.
- Pay attention to your hands and feet; prolonged numbness could make post-swim dressing difficult, leading to further heat loss.

After your swim: "A slow and steady warm-up wins."

- Dry off rapidly under a change robe; space blankets aren't effective, as they need heat to work.

- To avoid further heat loss, stand on an insulating mat while changing.
- Layer on pre-warmed loose clothing; never apply direct heat to the skin.
- Sip on a warm (not hot) beverage and enjoy a sugary treat to help internal rewarming.
- Avoid direct heat sources for thawing cold hands and feet to prevent injury.
- Alternating lukewarm and cool water dips can revive extremities for some; others may prefer rubbing their wrists.
- A lukewarm, not hot, shower may also help, but always abide by your personal tolerance and symptoms.
- A hot shower or tub can cause a risky blood pressure drop; never jump in right after a cold swim.
- A homemade blend of aromatherapy oils like ginger and eucalyptus can improve circulation if mixed with a carrier oil for a post-swim massage.

Remember to tailor your approach to managing Raynaud's while swimming in cold water, prioritizing personal safety and comfort.

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