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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Dr Angelica L Dumapit on December 16, 2022

What Causes Cold Feet And Hands?

In the winter months, it might feel impossible to keep your cold feet and hands warm. These tips can help.

Cold feet min scaled

Cold feet and hands are common in the winter. However, what happens if you get them despite the rest of your body feeling warm?

Sometimes, cold feet can indicate blood circulation problems due to being sedentary or overexposed to cold weather. In other cases, it could be suggestive of an underlying health condition, such as Raynaud’s disease.

If you’re tired of suffering through the winter with cold feet and hands, check out this guide on what’s causing the problems. Then read on to learn the top remedies for boosting circulation to cold areas of your body.

What Causes Cold Feet And Hands?

A close-up of a woman's pair of brown winter boots surrounded by snow
Being exposed to freezing temperatures can make it hard to keep your feet and hands warm.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), hands and feet that turn cold can indicate disharmony in the body. Most of the time, a person with this condition also experiences other symptoms.

Several factors can contribute to your cold feet and hands, especially if it occurs suddenly and is persistent. These include:

1. Vasoconstriction  

Vasoconstriction occurs when your skin blood vessels tighten in response to cold weather. It helps prevent heat loss from your core and vital organs to keep them warm. This can change the amount of blood flow to your hands and feet. 

Your limbs will feel cold when exposed to cooler temperatures than you’re used to. Iciness will subside once the temperature drops. 

2. Genetics

There’s an indication that having cold hands and feet is brought about by your genes. Research published in Cambridge University Press finds that the feeling of cold in the limbs is hereditary.

3. Yang Deficiency

TCM is based on a couple of principles. One is the concept of yin and yang, the two opposite but complementary forces. Yin is cold, dark, and quiet, whereas yang is hot, bright, and active. The two must be in balance to create good health.

TCM also believes in six evils: Wind, Cold, Heat, Dryness, Dampness, and Fire. They’re environmental elements that penetrate the body and cause illnesses.

As the name suggests, cold hands and feet can be set off by too much External Cold. This happens when the coolness from the environment around you invades the body. If it stays in the body for a long time, the cold can eventually cause Yang Deficiency.

Consequently, you should be aware of internal Cold, too. It’s a by-product of having Yang Deficiency.

But how can you tell if your yang is deficient? This body constitution manifests in excessive fatigue, cold sensitivity, nasal congestion, non-stop sneezing, abdominal pain, menstrual cramps and blood clots (in women), and poor digestion.

If you’ve been experiencing these symptoms, the best next step is to consult with a certified TCM practitioner. They will diagnose you properly and prescribe herbal remedies or therapies to help you feel your best.

It’s important to be proactive as long-term Yang Deficiency can turn into Qi Deficiency (low vital energy), which can trigger Blood Deficiency. These three primary substances work together to operate the organs. Therefore, keeping yang sufficient is a vital process to avoiding diseases. 

4. Raynaud’s disease

This disease affects the blood flow to some areas, mainly the fingers and toes. People with Raynaud’s Phenomenon may experience fingers and toes that change colors to white, blue, or red, followed by numbness. Other symptoms include a tingling or prickling sensation and difficulty moving the affected areas.

Most of the time, symptoms appear when you’re cold, anxious, or stressed. They would also go away by themselves after a few minutes or hours. There is no cure for Raynaud’s, but it’s highly manageable. Exercising, following a healthy diet, not smoking, and limiting caffeine intake can improve blood circulation.

5. Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD) 

Fatty plaque build-up in the arteries is the leading cause of this condition. People over 50 years old are more likely to develop PAD. Other risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

During PAD, fatty deposits and plaque deposits build up along the walls of the arteries leading to the limbs, causing pain, numbness and cold feet and hands.

Aside from cold limbs, people with PAD may also feel pain in the legs, buttocks, hips, thighs, or calves. As the amount of oxygen and nutrients in the organs decreases, PAD can cause muscle weakness, hair loss, and weak pulses. 

Tips To Warm Up Cold Feet And Hands

A woman keeping her feet warm by wearing wool socks and applying a heat pack to the bottom of her feet
Adding extra layers and applying warm compresses can heat up cold feet.

Despite the causes, there are things that you should avoid and habits that can benefit you. Practicing these habits will help prevent internal Cold and stop external Cold from damaging your yang as well:  

  • Reduce consumption of raw and cold foods
  • Try not to eat cold foods like salads, cold fruits, milk and overnight oats on an empty stomach
  • Soak your feet in warm water for 15 minutes. You can add mugwort leaves, ginger, or prickly ash to the bath for extra warmth.
  • Get enough rest
  • Avoid prolonged sitting
  • Putt on more layers when the weather is cold 

Adding warming soups and teas to your diet that increase blood flow can also keep you warm. The best herbal teas and soups to use include American ginseng tea and Ginseng with Ten Herbs Soup. Having warming foods or drinks, like mutton, leek, cinnamon, mugwort leaves, and jujube tea with ginger can also help.

Getting cold hands and feet is not a quirk. It’s your body’s way of telling you to pay attention. Keep your eyes on any related symptoms. Should the condition persist together with other changes, seek consultation from a medical practitioner or qualified TCM physician for a diagnosis.

References

  1. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2018. The association between cold hypersensitivity in the hands and feet and chronic disease: results of a multicentre study.  
  2. Cambridge University Press. 2012. Feeling of Cold Hands and Feet is a Highly Heritable Phenotype
  3. National Health Service. 2017. Raynaud’s
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019. Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD)

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