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Do you get Cold Hands? This page is for you!
(By the way … if you’re more interested in why you have cold FEET, click cold feet. A lot of what’s on this page also applies to cold feet. However, this page, on cold hands, is more detailed.)
Also – if you ask yourself “What deficiency causes cold hands and feet?” Here’s the answer. Also, if you wonder “Why are my hands and feet always cold?” Or maybe your hands just feel dead cold?
Cold often causes disease, even to people in hot countries. For example, where air-conditioning strongly cools the air and can easily chill you.
Also, in hot countries when you feel hot, what a pleasure it is to sit in a cool draft of air! But if you are tired at the time, or wet from swimming or wearing damp clothing, that cool draft can quickly chill you and give you an ‘invasion‘ of Cold.
1900 years ago, a Chinese doctor (Zhang Zhong Jing) noticed what happened when Cold ‘invaded’ you, and a whole school of Chinese medicine grew up around what he taught. See ‘Six Stages of disease Caused by Penetration of Cold‘.
With that chill you may or may not get cold hands, that depends on many factors, but getting chilled too often can lead to having permanently cold hands – eventually.
For students and other nerds
Here’s a quick summary of the main syndromes in Chinese medicine that lead to having cold hands- explained in a more leisurely way below.
You can have more than one of them at a time, of course!
Together these often lead to Blood Stasis, where your blood doesn’t flow properly where you need it.
(That, at least, is easy to understand!)
If you’re a bit disheartened by the above, each of which leads to pages and pages to read, here’s a way to make sense of it all!
If you have central heating in your house, and one of the radiators in a distant room (an analogy for your hands) is always colder than the others, well, it could be
It warms the other radiators but not quite that distant radiator, the water for which is too cool by the time it gets there. This is like yang deficiency.
Why is your boiler not strong enough? Maybe because it uses its power for something else, like heating the hot water. Or over time, it’s become less efficient.
Possibly, you put in more radiators than it can heat properly.
Or perhaps the house-builder under-estimated the power needed to warm your house, so the boiler was under-powered right from the start.
Taking the same analogy, suppose that instead of water you used another liquid in your central heating system. This other fluid stores and retains less heat – maybe it’s not as dense as water. No matter how powerful your boiler is, if the fluid won’t store and transmit the heat, some radiators won’t get hot. This would be like Heart Blood deficiency. However, this might apply to more radiators than just that one in the distant room. Here, the analogy may extend to your eating the wrong foods, for example poor nutrition, eating foods that tend to make you cool (Cold Foods) and not enough foods that are warming (Hot Foods) or blood-building.
Some people just don’t eat enough of any food, of course, either from circumstance or choice.
What’s more, Blood deficiency can come not just from poor quality blood, but from not having enough of it. Think of a radiator in a room high up in the house, so high that the water pressure can’t quite fill it properly. That lack of water means the radiator never fills properly so can’t heat properly. Relating to your hands, this might mean that you don’t retain enough fluid for health, either because your kidneys excrete too much or because you don’t eat enough moisture-containing food or drink enough water.
We might add here that Blood deficiency also applies to people with long, thin arms where there isn’t enough fat or muscular tissue to maintain and protect warmth in the Blood circulating to the hands. This is actually a yin deficiency situation, where there is not enough yin stuff to nourish and support yang.
If, like me, you were born this way and find it difficult to put on weight, then you must work on your circulation, diet, sleep and exercise to build up supplies of what you need. Good sleep, in particular, supports healthy Blood, and exercise strengthens your system and raises your temperature, creating more warmth.
Also, especially in cold weather, wear more!
This could be an emergency valve that cuts in when the system is stressed. It retards movement of water through the radiators, so by the time the water arrives at the distant radiator (your hands), it’s cold: this is like Qi stagnation. Also, if you are nervous or anxious, your Heart Yang energy may be less able to maintain warmth.
That distant room may be your walk-in deep-freezer room, so the poor little radiator in there is just hopelessly out-classed by the power of the refridgeration.
That’s like complaining of having cold hands if you walk about in winter at the South Pole without gloves on. In other words, exposure to VERY cold air for long enough will cool anybody’s hands!
Answer: By observing any other symptoms you get, and seeing which of these six ‘syndromes‘ (listed above) fits best. (More than one syndrome may apply.)
Now, you may be impatient, thinking
‘Yes, but how does this explain my Raynaud’s, my thyroid problem, this anaemia I’ve got, my Buerger’s, diabetes or … whatever’.
These are Western-medicine defined names or explanations. On this page we’re trying to explain your cold hands using Chinese medicine. To make sense of it you need to get to grips with another way of thinking.
After all, to understand Raynaud’s disease, you need familiarity with terms used in Western medicine which, if you know nothing about it, might require a bit of further study!
However, once you’ve grasped the ideas behind the six ‘syndromes’ involved, we’ll look at some of those Western-defined ‘cold-hand’ diseases and see how Chinese medicine might explain them.
There are various reasons why you may have yang deficiency and we’ll get to them further down, but as regards having Cold hands, there are three particular kinds, each with different symptoms. (However, you can have more than one kind at the same time.)
Here’s a table laying out their main features. Note: some symptoms are in yellow, blue or red. These are the main differentiating factors for that particular deficiency. You don’t need all of them for a diagnosis.
|Spleen yang deficiency||Lung yang deficiency||Heart yang deficiency|
|Energy||Weakness and tiredness||Low energy and tires easily: physical weakness||Frequent tiredness, need to sit or lie|
|Short of breath on exertion or from talking too long or too loudly||Strong emotions tire you|
|Spirits||Over-sympathises and worries too much||Low spirits: gloomy, rigid outlook||Fear of losing control|
|Chest||May have phlegm||Difficult to get a deep breath||Heart beat erratic, intermittent, stops and starts|
|Chest stuffy and feels ‘full’ though may or may not have phlegm||Chest feels stuffy or full|
|More susceptible to infections|
|Heart beat||Over-eating affects heart beat||Difficulty controlling breathing if anxious; can upset heartbeat||Anxiety and strong emotions upset heart beat|
|Circulation||Cold||Cold.||Often cold, and hard to warm up|
|Hands and feet||Cold||Cold hands more common than cold feet. Hands lose colour in cold.||Hands can go blue with cold|
|Skin||Pale||Skin clammy, perspires too easily||Perspires for no obvious reason|
|Face||Puffy face especially under eyes after sleep||Face colour bright and pale|
|Lip colour darker than usual|
|Nose||Increased nasal mucus|
|Throat||Increased throat mucus|
|Breathing||Breathing worse if over-eats or from eating when tired||Breathing worse in cold conditions||Short of breath on phyical exertion|
|Appetite and Digestion||Poor appetite||Cold foods and drinks may worsen lungs’ function|
|Distension after eating|
|Time||Possibly worse 9-11pm or 9-11am||Possibly worse 3-5pm or 3-5am||Possibly worse 11am-1pm, or 11pm-1am|
|Bowels and stools||Tend to be loose, ie runny, though not necessarily diarrhoea||Difficult bowel movements, stools may be too dry||Great fear or strong emotions can lead to evacuation of bowels|
|Bodily changes||Tends to put on weight||Tendency to oedema in upper parts, extending downwards||Oedema in feet and legs, extending upwards|
|Fertility||Poor food and digestion interfere with fertility||Infertility or subfertility originating from poor Lung function||Anxiety and emotions interfere with fertility|
|Likes||Lying or sitting||Rest||Pausing to catch breath|
|Pulse||Weak, deep||Weak. Pulse may be slower than normal.||Weak. Deep, misses beats|
|Tongue||Moist, pale, possibly swollen||Tongue may be swollen towards tip||Pale, moist|
|Tongue may be paler than normal|
|Physical Causes||Poor diet; too much raw or cold food||Drinking cold or iced liquids too often: cold food||Cold conditions or severe chills|
|Breathing noxious air, eg from smoking: poor possture|
|Frequent exhaustion from over activity or from frequent coughs and colds||Physical over-exertion or effort|
|Damp, Wet weather||Getting Cold from air, water, weather|
|Chronic disease||Inherited lung weakness||Inherited circulation problems|
|Emotional causes||Anxiety, too much caring for others||Sadness, grief||Emotional loss|
|Over-thinking, can become obsessive||Worry||Worry|
|Causes of the syndrome||Spleen qi deficiency||Spleen qi deficiency: Heart yang deficiency, Lung qi deficiency||Stomach and Spleen deficiency, Kidney yang deficiency|
|Can lead on to:||Obesity, oedema||Blocked nose and loss of smell||Circulation problems and stroke|
|Muscle sprains||Rigidity in thinking, somewhat disparaging||Great anxiety, fear of dying|
|Nervous exhaustion||Voice weak or sounding muffled or phlegmy or hoarse|
|Damp and Phlegm||Too many coughs and colds||Kidney yang deficiency|
|Kidney Yang deficiency||Heart qi stagnation|
|Qi stagnation||Spleen qi deficiency||Heart Blood stasis|
|For more, click and read:||Spleen Yang||Lung Yang||Heart Yang|
You could say that, as the situation deteriorates, symptoms move towards the right side of the table, so in other words, problems in the Spleen yang deficiency table can lead to Lung Yang deficiency symptoms, and from there to Heart Yang deficiency.
That’s partly why you’ll see the same entry in more than one column, for example, worry.
However, Heart Yang deficiency can lead to Lung yang deficiency because your circulation is controlled from your chest, where heart and lungs are next to one another and work together. If one of them is badly affected, it may weaken the other.
Because it is the Yang side of these organs that is deficient, overstrain of any of their Qi (eg Heart Qi, Lung Qi or Spleen qi) can lead to their yang becoming deficient. That’s because Qi is one manifestation of Yang. (Movement is another.)
For example, you weaken
The simplest and most obvious thing is to improve your diet, and because this is a yang deficiency, to avoid raw and cold foods and instead eat cooked, warm food, chewing well. Read our page on nutrition, too.
Next, get more rest and better sleep.
Try to address any emotional causes: these are more important than you may realise. Chinese medicine attaches great importance to emotional causes of disease, and each organ is more sensitive to certain emotions. Learn more under Shen-Mind and 5 Elements.
Read the linked pages for more: the table above is just a summary.
But I think most people suffering from yang deficiency will get faster results by getting some treatment. Chinese medicine has developed many ways of doing this, including acupuncture, moxibustion and herbs.
However, even treatment won’t help much if your real problem is Qi Stagnation!
Any strong emotion may cause Qi stagnation, and this works like that valve in the household circulation analogy, above. You get anxious, angry, worried, fearful, and it tightens you up – your shoulders hunch, or jaw tightens, or throat feels stiff, your abdomen tenses – all symptoms of your body going into defence mode. This restricts blood circulation.
There! Cold hands. (Possibly cold feet too!)
There’s lots more to read on that page on Qi stagnation, but as regards your cold hands, that’s about it. (However, some people get hot when stressed. Then they get Hot hands. I don’t have a page on that, but it’s probably healthier than getting Cold hands.)
Short-term, the most effective way to reduce Qi stagnation is to take vigorous exercise.
Longer-term, acupuncture can be brilliant at reducing Qi stagnation. Herbs help too, but less immediately than acupuncture.
Next, on to Blood Deficiency.
If your blood is deficient for some reason, it won’t be able to feed nourishment and warmth to your extremities, your hands or feet, which means they’ll get cold.
How do you get Blood deficiency? For a fuller answer please read our page on Blood.
Blood, in Chinese medicine, is the foundation for your personality and contributes a huge amount to your resilience, memory, concentration and confidence. So, straight off, if you suffer in those areas (resilience, memory …) you may have Blood deficiency.
If I were I to list all their symptoms, this page would become unwieldy, but a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle often leads her to being more interested in Liver Blood deficiency, whereas men are more interested in Heart Blood deficiency. (Mind you, women suffer from Heart Blood deficiency too.)
Of course, you need to drink and retain enough moisture (water) too because blood is nearly 80% water. Not enough water means you won’t have enough blood.
(However, I’m not sure I agree with runners and other sports-people who carry water bottles all the time: there is a limit to how much water your body needs and can manage. In Chinese medicine it’s your Kidney Yang function that metabolises your water: water is yin and Kidney yang is yang. Too much yin (water) can weaken your yang energy and you certainly don’t want that if you have cold hands. If your urine is either nearly colourless or a very pale yellow you are probably drinking enough, and drinking more water won’t help.)
Chinese medicine, including acupuncture and herbs, have powerful ways to treat Blood deficiency. That includes advice – don’t ignore the advice – it’s built on over 2500 years of bitter experience!
Both your body’s digestion and its ability to sleep are adversely affected by Qi stagnation.
It covers not just the stuff you spit out (‘substantial’ phlegm) but also ‘presumed’ phlegm (non-substantial phlegm’), which is treated in much the same way as real phlegm.
Your acupuncture channels move Qi around your body, and your Qi ‘leads’ your Blood. So if something blocks Qi from moving (one way, already mentioned, is Qi Stagnation) your limbs won’t receive the Blood they need and may get cold: hence cold hands.
Another potential blocker of easy Qi movement is phlegm – ‘presumed’ or ‘non-substantial’. Think of it like a pea-souper fog, through which traffic dare not move fast.
Here again, you get coldness, but the most common symptom of Phlegm blocking the channels is numbness. So you can feel both cold and numb, or just numb.
Phlegm is not that easy to treat, especially non-substantial phlegm, but acupuncture does work, given time. Herbs also help greatly.
The trouble is that it takes time to develop non-substantial phlegm and by the time patients reach their acupuncturist, time has passed, the patient has tried lots of other things and the condition has worsened: the ‘phlegm’ has got a grip.
By that time, the patient’s energy is lower – the ravages of ageing! – so treatment has less Qi to work with and is up against a more entrenched foe. So treatment takes longer.
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While symptoms can vary between patients, the most common causes of Raynaud’s disease in TCM include:
Qi stagnation occurs if the patient gets anxious when expecting cold, and this tightens up the system via Qi stagnation, even before encountering cold conditions.
Blood deficiency is a main cause for many. Avoiding cold foods and eating more warming foods, (not VERY spicy food, however, as it may make you perspire, causing heat loss) is vital during the period of treatment, however long it lasts.
NB If Cold invasion is still an issue, other herbs and acupuncture would be needed first to chase out the Cold. These might include spicy herbs to induce perspiration, but this perspiration is desirable, unlike the perspiration from eating spicy herbs for a chronic condition. How would the practitioner know? Answer, mainly from your pulse picture, where the Cold would manifest in a slow but strong pulse, unlike that of a more chronic condition.
Unlike Western medication, Chinese medicine causes few, if any, deleterious side-effects. In young, otherwise healthy, people, it can work fast. In much older people it may take time to get their metabolism up to speed.
Important! Don’t wait for cold or wintry conditions to seek treatment!
Treatment should begin when you are warm, in summer or autumn, to strengthen yang, qi and Blood. Achieving its benefits take longer when you are battling winter Cold as well.
Thyroid hypofunction leads to slowness, low spirits, low energy and motivation – and coldness, including cold hands.
Eventually you may get goitre, enlarged thyroid glands in your neck. Nowadays, we often associate this with iodine insufficiency but traditional herbal formulae for the condition did not always need iodine-containing herbs to treat it successfully.
Its origin in Chinese medicine is Kidney yang deficiency, leading to Heart Yang deficiency and/or Spleen and Kidney yang deficiency so it is a deficiency disorder – although goitre is a form of phlegm, a yin-excess condition.
(So, yes, deficiency conditions of one sort can lead to excess conditions of another, just as when you walk your baby too slowly – deficiency – it awakes and you get a loud excess condition. At least. that’s my experience.)
For these, with herbs, there are ancient formulae which, given time, warm you up. (Actually, that’s not correct. They do include warming herbs but also herbs for yin deficiency to balance, but the effect is to encourage your body’s metabolism to work more efficiently and to warm up. So it’s your body’s metabolism that mends itself, because the herbs create the right environment for it to do so.)
Acupuncture has similar strategies, aiming to get your body into a better balance between yin and yang.
In Western medicine there are various kinds of anaemia but in the case of Cold hands, in Chinese medicine this is mainly from Blood deficiency.
Treatment aims to benefit Spleen and Stomach Qi, which together improve digestion. Then, with suitable food, you clear your Blood deficiency.
However, people with anaemia – Blood deficiency – are often stressed, with symptoms of Qi stagnation which means your acupuncturist may treat this too.
I would use acupuncture and, probably, herbal formulae for this.
Affects both sexes, but more commonly men: age of onset 20-50; tobacco users
In TCM, Buerger’s syndrome (TAO thrombo-angiitis obliterans) shows signs of Blood stasis, Blood deficiency, Yang deficiency.
Although I have not seen this much discussed I surmise that yang deficiency (probably starting with Lung Yang deficiency, owing to the observation that tobacco users are commonly affected) and Blood deficiency are the underlying ‘driving’ syndromes. Tobacco users often have poor diets which may explain the Blood deficiency, probably Heart Blood deficiency.
Together you get Blood Stasis, an important syndrome in Chinese medicine. This can lead to the Western-medicine diagnosis of vasculitis.
If the above diagnosis is correct, then it would be vital to stop using tobacco or any other drug with similar effects. (I say using tobacco because this applies to tobacco chewers, and probably users of snuff, too, for all I know!) I speculate that e-smoking will eventually produce similar consequences.
With acupuncture there are many acupuncture points, noted since ancient times, that help the body to
Similarly, there are powerful herbal formulae, refined over millennia, to move and regulate Blood etc. However, if your symptoms are advanced, see a good doctor too! Once a part of you – eg a toe or finger – has gone (from gangrenous tissue death) it’s gone.
(This article relates mainly to Type 2 Diabetes.)
Diabetes, or something very like it, was written about in China 2500 years ago. It weakens peripheral circulation and retards healing of ulcerations and skin infections. These are signs of Blood stasis.
This Blood stasis from diabetes arises in up to three ways, characterised by problems from the upper, middle and lower parts of your trunk:
All three lead yin deficiency. Eventually, diabetics usually get all three kinds of problem (upper, middle and lower).
Then the yin deficiency leads on to a form of drying out (they describe it as internal heat that consumes fluids, causing wasting and thirst).
That ‘dries out’ your Blood, so it doesn’t flow properly, leading to Blood stasis. This Blood stasis means Cold hands (also Cold feet!)
Diabetes is dangerous because, with advanced Blood stasis you can get gangrene and lose toes, or worse.
We now know that potential diabetics can massively improve their health – and diabetes – by eating better. They have to stop eating foods that demand an insulin response, and Chinese medicine urges you to stop taking sugar(s), sweets, greasy and fatty foods, stimulant drinks like tea and coffee, and alcohol.) Then you must eat a range of better foods. (For some ideas, read Nutrition.)
Strong emotional disturbances from stress, depression and anxiety cause Qi Stagnation, which itself can also cause Blood stasis. So diabetics are shown how to manage these stressful emotions.
Often there is also a background, sometimes inherited, of constitutional yin deficiency, with pale complexion, tiredness, weakness and lethargy.
Scleroderma has thickening of the skin. There are two types, localised and systemic, and they go through various stages as the condition develops. It can affect the way your internal organs function and cause blood vessel problems.
These can lead to poor circulation in your arms and legs, with cold hands and legs.
In Chinese medicine there are three basic factors, which may occur together:
For scleroderma, I would suggest herbs as the first form of treatment. Prescriptions, based on tried and tested formulae, are adapted to the individual’s symptoms. Acupuncture can certainly help, but herbs are usually the main form of treatment.
In addition, you need advice on exercise, to help move your Blood.
Lupus is an auto-immune disease, meaning that part of your immune system comes under attack from another part. This becomes an internal battle, and you get symptoms of inflammation, fatigue, fever, appetite loss, sore, swollen joints and much else, including Raynaud’s phenomenon (see above). This ‘battle’ is a yang state and one possible result is cold hands and cold feet.
Lupus is a yang state because of the inflammation and fever but this apparent ‘yang’ excess can come about in two ways. Either there is too much toxic heat and fire in the body (yang-excess), or there is not enough yin energy to cool it down (yin-deficiency). Both may be present.
In young people, you are more likely to see the yang-excess form whereas older people tend to get more yin-deficiency symptoms. But everyone is different and you need to see a skilled acupuncturist for a diagnosis.
The energy of Fire heats and dries, so you get moodiness, thirst, constipation, butterfly rash on the face, fever and dark urine. Your tongue goes red and may have a yellow greasy coating. This ‘Fire’ damages Yin energy and Blood. (Consequently, as time passes and you age and your Yin reserves deplete, you tend towards the form in later life of yin-deficiency.)
With Blood depleted you get Blood deficiency and Blood stasis, leading (as explained further up this page) to cold hands and cold feet. In Chinese medicine the main internal energies affected are those of the Liver and Kidney.
Treatment aims to clear Heat, then nourish and move Blood using acupuncture and herbs.
This is more likely in older people or in young people who have had SLE for a long time.
Here, the fever is lower, and you get perspiration at night, during sleep, poor sleep, fatigue and hair loss. Everything comes from this lower grade heat, resulting from your body being unable to cool and nourish yin. The main problem is in Liver Yin deficiency. However, you will also have Kidney deficiency.
Here the focus of treatment is less on clearing Heat and more on nourishing Yin and Blood, then moving the latter to avoid Blood stasis. Both acupuncture and Chinese herbal tradition have strategies for this.
If you’ve read this far, you will – I hope – have realised that what seems such a simple problem can have many causes, some more complicated than others.
In Chinese medicine the aim is to balance yin and yang, Qi and Blood, and to enable qi to move and transform smoothly, leading Blood with it, and turning from one form to another as it progresses round the body and mind. It’s a difficult idea for many Westerners to grasp, but it works.
Dry Skin – how to understand it with yin and yang. It takes healthy Blood to make healthy skin, and a way to get that healthy blood where it’s needed!