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Our bodies are designed to regulate our temperature. When it’s cold outside, your body makes sure to keep the blood flowing to your core and vital organs to keep them warm. This can change the amount of blood flow to your hands and feet, making them feel cold. This is normal. The blood vessels in your hands and feet constrict (spasm) when it’s cold, to prevent heat loss from your core.

Some people tend to have colder feet and hands naturally, without an underlying disease. It’s a fairly common condition. When your hands and feet naturally tend to get cold, you may just need to take extra precautions in cold weather to protect them.

But if your cold feet and hands are constantly bothersome, or if you notice additional symptoms, such as color changes in your fingers, there are more things you can do.

Here’s what to know about cold feet and hands, and what you can do about it.

Some people work, live, or play in very cold environments. Meat packers or others who spend time in freezers, military personnel, mountain climbers, hunters, utility linemen, and rescue workers are some of the people who need special protective clothing to keep them as warm as possible.

Being in a very cold environment carries the danger of frostbite and permanent damage to hands and feet. In addition, there’s a danger that the ability to work emergency equipment will be impaired by extreme cold.

Ongoing research is looking at whether working in a constantly cold environment helps you to become more accustomed to it and to avoid injury. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), some people can develop a tolerance for cold. Fishermen, for example, can work with their bare hands in extremely cold weather.

The CCOHS notes that women are at more risk of cold injury because their hands and feet cool faster.

No matter what’s causing your cold feet and hands, it’s important for your comfort to warm them up. Here are some remedies:

  • Consider clothing choices. Wear a hat, gloves, warm socks, and a warm coat in cold weather. Wear layers to keep your core warm, and don’t wear tight clothing. Some people find a scarf or turtleneck helpful for staying warm.
  • Help kids know what to do. For children, make sure they’re warmly dressed and know to come inside if they feel chilled or their hands or feet get chilled.
  • Wear socks or slippers. Wear a sweater and warm socks if you’re cold inside.
  • Exercise every day. Exercise daily, including walking, to improve your blood circulation.
  • Do a quick warmup. Try jumping jacks to get your blood moving. March in place while sitting. Wiggle your toes and make circles with your feet. Make circles in the air with each finger if they’re stiff. Make wide circles in the air with your arms to encourage blood flow.
  • Move around regularly. Take time to get up at least every half-hour to stretch or walk around.
  • Use an electric heating pad. Electric heating pads come in different sizes and styles that you can use for different areas of your body.
  • For feet, use a heating pad on your lower back. Use a heating pad in key locations like your lower back and on your feet while you’re relaxing at night. This can help your blood vessels open up and allow more blood flow to your legs.
  • Hold something warm. Hold a warm drink in your hands.
  • Quick massage. Briskly massage your hands or feet.
  • Keep warmers in reach. Use single-use or reusable commercial hand or foot warmers when you’ll be outside in the cold. LL Bean sells warmers that last for 8 hours.

We asked an expert for additional tips to help with cold hands and feet. Wendy Slate is a Certified Hand Therapist with 38 years of experience. She founded Cape Cod Hand and Upper Extremity Therapy 16 years ago, and has worked with many people who have Raynaud’s.

  • Wear mittens. “Wear mittens instead of gloves,” Slate advised, “because mittens keep your fingers together and conserve warmth.”
  • Treat your hands and feet to paraffin wax. She uses a paraffin wax bath to warm up hands and soothe arthritis. “You can buy a paraffin wax kit to do this at home,” Slate said. “After immersing your hands in the paraffin, put a plastic bag around them to keep the heat in, and then wrap your hands in towels.”
  • Use heat with moisture. Slate also recommended moist heat packs that you can warm up in the microwave. “You can buy these at craft fairs. They’re filled with beans, rice, or other grains that give out moist heat when you microwave them,” Slate said. “Moist heat penetrates better.”
  • Avoid direct contact with frozen items. Slate advised staying away from the freezer sections in stores, if you have Raynaud’s, and wearing gloves if you do have to reach into the freezer.
  • Look into biofeedback therapy. Another technique that Slate has successfully used in therapy is temperature biofeedback. “This uses imagery to bring increased circulation to the hands. You need a therapist to train you to do this. You use imagery like running your hands through hot sand to help raise the hand temperature.”

Next, let’s look more closely at specific health conditions that could be behind constantly cold feet and hands. This includes Reynaud’s syndrome and other conditions that can affect blood circulation.

Many factors can make your hands and feet cold. Your own body has a baseline and its natural response to cold temperatures.

The most common health-related conditions that can cause coldness in your limbs are related to poor blood circulation or nerve damage in your hands or feet.

Here are some of the possibilities:

Anemia

Anemia is a condition where you have fewer healthy and properly functioning red blood cells than normal. It’s usually caused by an iron deficiency.

When you have an iron deficiency, your red blood cells may not have enough hemoglobin (iron-rich protein) to transport oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. The result can be cold fingers and toes.

What you can do

A blood test can determine if your blood has low levels of iron. Eating more foods that are iron-rich (such as leafy greens) and taking iron supplements can help relieve your cold hands and feet.

Arterial disease

When your arteries are narrowed or dysfunctional, it reduces blood flow to your legs and feet. There are several types of arterial disease.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) affects an estimated one third of people over 50 years old who have diabetes mellitus. PAD typically causes arterial wall damage in the lower extremities when buildup of plaque on the walls of blood vessels causes them to narrow.

Primary pulmonary hypertension, which damages the arteries of the lungs, often involves Raynaud’s.

PAD symptoms in addition to cold feet include:

  • pain in your legs when you’re exercising
  • numbness or pins and needles in your legs or feet
  • sores on your legs and feet that heal slowly

Primary pulmonary hypertension symptoms include:

  • difficulty breathing
  • fatigue
  • dizziness

If you have any of these symptoms, along with cold hands and feet, see your doctor. Treating arterial disease early can lead to a better outcome.

Diabetes

  • Poor blood circulation. Poor blood circulation is a symptom of diabetes, especially in your extremities, which can make your hands and feet cold.
  • Heart disease. Diabetes also increases the risk for heart disease and narrowing of the arteries (due to atherosclerosis), both of which may contribute to cold hands and feet.
  • Nerve damage. Nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy), especially in your feet, is a complication of diabetes. It’s caused by high blood sugar levels over a long period of time. One of the early symptoms is a feeling of “pins and needles” in your feet or hands.

What you can do

It’s important to keep your blood sugar levels steady and as close to normal as possible. Also, if you have nerve damage, check your feet carefully for wounds that you might not feel, but could become infected.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a condition where your thyroid is underactive and doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones to keep your body’s metabolic functions running properly. It affects more women than men, and is common over age 60.

Feeling cold is one of the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Other symptoms include fatigue, joint pain and stiffness, dry skin, thinning hair, and depression.

What you can do

A doctor can determine if you have hypothyroidism with blood testing. The main treatment is a synthetic hormone supplement, taken daily.

Raynaud’s syndrome

Raynaud’s syndrome, also known as Raynaud’s phenomenon or Raynaud’s disease, is a condition that makes your fingers or sometimes other parts of your body feel cold or numb. It results from the narrowing of arteries in your hands or feet, which stops the blood from having normal circulation.

Raynaud’s may cause your fingers to change color, turning white, blue, or red. When your blood circulation becomes normal, your hands may tingle, throb, or swell.

Raynaud’s is triggered by cold temperatures or stress. The exact cause of Raynaud’s isn’t fully understood. Raynaud’s is divided into two main types. Most people have primary Raynaud’s, which is called Raynaud’s disease.

When another medical condition causes Raynaud’s, it’s called secondary Raynaud’s, which is also called Raynaud’s phenomenon.

What you can do

Treatments for Raynaud’s include drugs that improve your circulation and widen your blood vessels. But many people don’t need any treatment.

For some people who experience severe Raynaud’s, talking with a doctor about medicines like those for erectile dysfunction and topical nitroglycerin cream might be useful.

Raynaud’s syndrome from another condition

Here are some causes of secondary Raynaud’s:

  • Scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that causes hardening of the skin, often is accompanied by Raynaud’s.
  • Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus) is another autoimmune disease that can cause Raynaud’s.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome, which causes numbness and weakness in your hand due to median nerve entrapment, often is accompanied by Raynaud’s.

Vitamin B-12 deficiency

A vitamin B-12 deficiency can give you neurological symptoms including the feeling of cold hands and feet, numbness, or tingling.

Vitamin B-12 is found naturally in meat and dairy products, and is important for maintaining healthy red blood cells. Your body doesn’t make vitamin B-12, so you need to get it from the foods you eat.

Other symptoms of a vitamin B-12 deficiency include:

  • fatigue
  • movement and balance problems
  • anemia
  • pale skin
  • shortness of breath
  • mouth sores
  • cognitive difficulties

What you can do

A blood test can indicate vitamin B-12 deficiency. Treatments can include your taking an oral supplement, receiving vitamin B-12 injections, and changes to your diet.

Smoking

Smoking tobacco causes injury to your blood vessels throughout the body, which then become narrowed, and can contribute to cold fingers and toes.

Over time, smoking can damage the blood vessels in your heart, making it harder for your heart to pump blood through your body. This especially affects your legs and feet.

What you can do

Get help to quit smoking. There are trained professionals, therapies, and even apps that can help you monitor your own progress.

Other factors that may lead to cold hands and feet include your age, family history, and some medications. In addition:

  • If you have a bacterial or viral infection and a fever, you may also have chills.
  • Sometimes anxiety can give you cold feet and hands.
  • A 2016 study shows a strong connection between chronic indigestion and cold hands and feet.
  • A 2018 study looked at the relationship of many chronic conditions and cold hands and feet, including high and low blood pressure and painful periods (dysmenorrhoea). This study also considered cultural influences on how people think about cold hands and feet.
  • Babies and older adults have additional risk factors for cold hands and feet.

For babies

Babies lose body heat more rapidly in the cold because they have a large body surface area compared to their weight. They may not have a lot of fat under their skin as insulation. Also, their natural body temperature regulation is not fully developed.

For older adults

Older people lose the ability to regulate their body temperature well. The blood vessels in their extremities don’t constrict as easily to keep their core warm.

The metabolism tends to slow with age, and this can contribute as well. They may have an increased risk of cold extremities because of chronic conditions and medications.

If you have cold hands and feet all the time, no matter what the weather is outside or temperature around you, see your doctor. There may be an underlying disease or condition that needs to be treated.

If you have additional symptoms, such as fingers or toes that change color, trouble breathing, or hand or leg pain, see a doctor.