Member Case Study: Numbness in Fingers After Running

author : AMSSM
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Question from RGStern1
After my long runs I find that my finger tips will be numb for up to a couple of hours. It is not from cold, so I assume it is somehow related to circulation (i.e. all the blood flow is going to my legs). Any thoughts on whether 1) this is a problem and 2) what to do to avoid it?

Answer

Medical studies, as well as specific reports of hand numbness with extended running, are sparse. However, based on a solid understanding of the vascular changes that occur during activity, we can extrapolate a rational explanation for this phenomenon.

A number of vascular changes occur in the body during activity. In general, these changes are beneficial, the blood vessels dilating and constricting in order to shunt blood where our bodies need it. The aerobic activity of running engages almost all of our body’s muscle groups. However, running does preferentially utilize the muscles of the lower body. This requires that blood be preferentially shunted to the legs in order to meet the demands of these large, active muscles. Long distances, in particular, allow our bodies time to adjust to a new “steady state,” where blood is relatively concentrated in our lower extremities. Unfortunately, this can leave our “less vital” appendages, such as the fingers, with less blood flow.

The fact that this is occurs in all fingers of both hands is actually reassuring. More worrisome causes of finger numbness with activity include blood vessel damage or obstruction. These causes are rare, tend to occur in sports with high impact trauma to the hand (such as baseball catchers and handball players), and generally affect one hand or the other. Worrisome signs would be ulcers developing on the fingertips or lack of pulse in the wrist.

Many factors can contribute to this phenomenon. Iron deficiency anemia is not uncommon among runners. Ensuring that you get enough iron in your diet or in a supplement is a good recommendation. Other recommendations include avoiding things that constrict blood vessels (caffeine, decongestants, smoking) and wearing gloves during your runs. Some physicians also recommend fish oil or evening primrose oil supplements which may promote blood flow.

Anne Boyd, M.D.
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, St Margaret's hospital
Member, AMSSM

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date: March 5, 2006

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AMSSM

The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) was formed in 1991 to fill a void that has existed in sports medicine from its earliest beginnings. The founders most recognized and expert sports medicine specialists realized that while there are several physician organizations which support sports medicine, there has not been a forum specific for primary care non-surgical sports medicine physicians.

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avatarAMSSM

The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) was formed in 1991 to fill a void that has existed in sports medicine from its earliest beginnings. The founders most recognized and expert sports medicine specialists realized that while there are several physician organizations which support sports medicine, there has not been a forum specific for primary care non-surgical sports medicine physicians.

FIND A SPORTS MEDICINE DOCTOR

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