Raynaud's and Open Water Swimming

Raynaud's, named after the French physician Maurice Raynaud, affects a significant portion of the adult population—up to 20%. It is also commonly referred to as Raynaud's Disease, Raynaud's Phenomenon, or Raynaud's Syndrome.


What exactly is Raynaud's? It's a condition where the smaller blood vessels constrict excessively in response to cold or stress, limiting blood flow to extremities such as fingers, toes, ears, and the nose. This response helps to preserve core body temperature but can cause discomfort.

In those with Raynaud's, this vascular reaction is heightened, resulting in significantly reduced blood flow and, consequently, color changes in the skin, numbness, pins and needles, or even severe pain. Primary Raynaud's occurs idiopathically with no clear cause, while Secondary Raynaud's is associated with other conditions or certain medications.

Managing Raynaud's while open water swimming in Canada Canadian open water swimmers, like Marian who started at 62, and ice-swimming veteran Mike, bravely face extreme conditions and offer their tips for managing Raynaud's in frigid waters.

These suggestions are based on personal experience, so do stay tuned to your body and consult with healthcare professionals regarding your condition:


Before swimming:

  • Dress warmly for the journey, wearing your gear if possible.
  • Protect your hands with gloves and stay out of the wind while changing.
  • Hydrate well—being dehydrated can exacerbate Raynaud's symptoms.
  • Warm-up with light exercise and breathing techniques.

During your swim:

  • Insulate with thermal accessories and always heed your body's signals.
  • Shorter swims are preferable over enduring discomfort or pain.


  • Dry off and change swiftly, avoiding direct heat from sources like radiators or car heaters, which can worsen symptoms.
  • Consume warm—but not hot—drinks and snacks to slowly raise your body temperature.
  • Wrapping your post-swim clothes in a hot water bottle will also keep them toasty warm for when you’re finished! If you have warmed up your clothes with water bottles, ensure that heat is never applied directly to the skin.
  • Alternating dipping your hands and feet into a bowl of lukewarm then cold water can help to bring them back to life. For some sufferers of Raynaud’s however, this will not be possible. Warming your wrists by rubbing them together can be an effective, and less painful way of generating heat.
  • Taking a lukewarm shower afterwards, can help increase your body temperature at a safe rate. This will of course depend on your Raynaud’s symptoms and levels of tolerance. For some swimmers, this will be too much. A note for all swimmers - never get into a hot shower, or hot tub, afterwards as this could send blood too quickly back to your arms, legs, hands and feet, and therefore away from the heart and brain which could cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure.
  • A wide range of aromatherapy oils including ginger, cypress, eucalyptus, black pepper, rosemary, lavender, and peppermint (to name just a few) are all used to improve circulation and blood flow, so creating your own blend of these to massage onto your hands and feet after swimming could be advantageous. Remember to use a carrier oil so the essential oils are not applied directly to your skin.