Following hand injury sensitivity to cold, or cold intolerance is not uncommon. In fact around 40% of those suffering hand trauma will experience cold intolerance (Novak & McCabe, 2015).
Cold intolerance is more than the usual feelings of chill. Symptoms include ache or pain in and around the injured part. The feeling is excessive to what would usually be expected following exposure to the cold. And in some cases can be severe and result in stiffness. Change in colour of the finger or hand to blue, red or whiter can also occur. Symptoms usually persist until or after the hand is warmed.
The exact cause of cold intolerance is unknown. Some research suggests it is more likely following injury to a nerve in the hand (Median or combination Median and Ulnar nerves), +/- damage to a blood vessel. This same research concluded that blunt injury was also more likely to cause issues tolerating the cold (Irwin et al 1997). Other studies have researched cold intolerance following tendon and bone injuries in the hand.
Exposure to cold air is the usual trigger, which makes those living and working in cold environments more susceptible. And most research conculdes that those who smoke and injury severity are the main predictors of a poor outcome.
What can I do to stop cold intolerance?
Preventing the fingers / hands getting cold seems to be the only real way of managing cold intolerance. Avoiding exposure to cold air appears to be the best solution for minimising the impact of cold intolerance. And where the temperature can not be controlled using good quality gloves made of natural materials can help. Donning the gloves before leaving the house or car, of before entering the cold environment can help - as warming hands once cold can take time and be painful.
A hand therapist or occupational therapist can provide advice about tool handles / grips and other tricks to minimise exposure and the onset of symptoms. In the first instance- avoid cold and don good quality gloves!
Author Jo Marsh
Click here to edit