We’ve invited physical therapist Morgan Peak to provide suggestions for a holistic approach to help Frosties boost the circulatory systems that become impaired when triggered by the cold, causing pain and discomfort.
When we think about the anatomy of our bodies, the major blood vessels and nerves that travel from the neck down to the shoulder, pass through different layers of connective tissues, around muscles and over the top of the ribs. Because there are so many pathways that the blood vessels and nerves are crossing through, any tightness or tension in this area may increase the intensity and sensitivity of Raynaud’s into the fingers.
With this understanding, we can stretch the muscles of the neck and the front of the shoulder in order to open up this pathway to improve blood circulation & nerve mobility.
Here are some simple moves to lessen your symptoms and make this condition more manageable, especially as the climate transitions into colder weather.
Scalene stretch – Using a band, towel, or strap, hold it tight over the top of the shoulder. Then tip head to the opposite side in order to stretch the scalene muscles and take pressure off of the major blood vessels exiting the neck. Complete on each side for 1 minute..
Muscle smashing with ball – Using a myofascial release ball or tennis ball, place it at the front of your chest, close to the shoulder, and press out any restrictions in the muscle and fascia. Complete on both sides for 1-2 minutes.
Banded shoulder stretch – Anchor a band at shoulder level height and place a loop at the front of your shoulder, just off of the joint line. Lunge forward, extend arm backwards, and tip head away. This stretches the shoulder joint, which takes pressure off of the nerves and circulatory pathways crossing this area. Complete on both sides for 1-2 minutes.
Mobilize the skin over each finger – Simply grab the superficial layer of skin and gently pull out. This releases the fascial tension and improves circulation at the ends of the fingertips. This move is the easiest one to do since no equipment is needed and can be completed on the go!
While cold temperatures are typically avoided or planned for by people who have Raynaud’s, one technique is cold sensitization and deliberate cold exposure to activate cold shock proteins in the body as well as reduce the overall sensitivity to cold. Through deliberate cold exposure, the body will improve its ability to handle the stress of cold as well as adapt faster to cold temperatures.
Based on research, 10 minutes of deliberate cold exposure is needed per week to improve these mechanisms. A simple way of adapting this protocol into your lifestyle would be a cold shower, tub, or plunge, and starting with just 30 seconds to 1 minute a few times per week and progressing from there. To take it a step further, “Contrast Therapy” of hot and cold is also an evidence-based practice that works to improve the body’s mechanisms for both hot and cold exposure. For many of my clients who deal with Raynaud’s, they find that Contrast Therapy in conjunction with mobility work, such as the above sequence of exercises, provides them the most relief as well as a holistic approach to management of their symptoms.
To watch a full sequence of these exercises, check out this YouTube video:
Editor’s Note: For more information on the above holistic approach of training the body to tolerate the cold, see our article titled, “Can you train for cold tolerance?”
Morgan is a licensed Physical Therapist with specialized certifications in orthopedics & manual therapy and expertise in fascia & the nervous system. She runs a private elite therapy spa in Spokane, WA called Northwest Elite. Contactmorgan@northwestelite.com or @nwelites to learn more about holistic approaches for the body and mind.