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Planning Retirement Online

Home Exercise and Rehab

May 2013


Gina John

Gina John is a Pilates Practitioner and Registered Osteopath who has spent many years offering help and advice, especially to the over 50 age group.

She is founder of The Osprey Clinic in the St. Johns Wood area of London and now specialises in Home Exercise and Rehabilitation Programmes. For further advice on exercising safely, and a selection of exercise films for general fitness and medical conditions, visit the website:



This month: Advice for helping cold hands and feet

Q: Over the past few years, I have been suffering with cold hands and feet and warmer weather doesn’t seem to improve this problem. I can also experience numbness and tingling in my fingers and toes. Even wearing mittens and socks all year round, doesn’t seem have a great impact. Can you offer any help and advice to help this condition? 

It is common to experience cold hands or feet when we are sedentary, as our blood circulation is not as dynamic as when we are active. Also, after eating a meal our blood flow is diverted away from the body’s peripheral muscles and joints so as to aid our internal organs in the digestive process. The part of our nervous system termed the ‘autonomic nervous system’ is responsible for diverting blood circulation in this way. When we are active, the ‘sympathetic nerves’ enable our muscles to acquire increased blood flow, carrying with it oxygen and nutrition to enable us to sustain activities, whereas ‘ parasympathetic nerves’ are responsible for controlling the digestive system as well as the other internal organs. So, no matter how well you dress for the cold, your nervous system may have other plans!

A condition known as Raynaud’s Syndrome is typified by episodic colour changes in the skin in response to cold or stress. Symptoms occur when the blood vessels in the hands, and sometimes also the feet are hypersensitive to cold, causing them to go into spasm. The skin becomes pale, patchy red or blue-toned. Tingling, numbness and a burning sensation as well as difficulty in moving the fingers or toes may also be experienced. Although, the condition is most commonly diagnosed in women under 40, Raynaud’s is also associated with rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, scleroderma, nerve disorders, decreased thyroid activity, injuries and drug reactions.

Other common causes of numbness or altered sensation in the extremities include compression of the nerves which run from the neck to the hands, as well as conditions which affect the sensory nerves (sensory neuropathy) and the smaller arteries in the hands and feet, such as diabetes. So, it is necessary to consult with our General Practitioner if you are experiencing such symptoms, especially if they seem to be getting worse or affecting your sleep.

Wearing mittens and socks may be beneficial, as heat will help to dilate our blood vessels, improving the circulation to peripheral muscles and joints. However, if you have a history of high cholesterol, heart disease or peripheral artery disease, blood vessels may be narrowed by the accumulation of fatty material and therefore, restrict your blood circulation in the affected areas.

Other common causes of cold hands and feet include, working with vibrating equipment, taking certain medications, consuming caffeine, smoking or suffering from stress. All of which may cause blood vessels to constrict.

Useful advice to improve your peripheral circulation is to eat lighter meals and drink a warm caffeine-free drink every 2-3 hours. Also, avoid wearing very tight fitting gloves, socks or footwear and try to make to for relaxation or reading to combat stress.

The following exercises will also be of benefit in stimulating the circulation to the hands and feet.

Shoulder Circles
Sit or stand up straight. Pull the shoulders up towards your ears, then draw them back and down, in a circular action. Repeat 10 times.

Shoulder Circles

Finger Scrunching
Scrunch your fingers tightly, and stretch them out fully. Repeat 10-15 times.

Finger Scrunching
Finger Stretching
Pull your elbows into your waist and open out our fingers fully, then close them together again. Repeat 10-15 times.
Finger Stretching

Marching Feet
Roll through the feet. Rising up onto the ball of the foot of the right foot, while pressing into the heel of the left foot. Then, roll through the feet, rising onto the ball of the left foot, while pressing into the heel of the right foot. Repeat 20 times.

Marching Feet

Toe Scrunching
Place a scarf under the right foot and scrunch the toes to gather the scarf up beneath the foot. Repeat 2-3 times then repeat the exercise on the left foot.
Toe Scrunching


See all Gina's Home Exercise and Rehab features

Please send your questions for future columns, or feedback, by email to Gina John on

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