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#146743 - 02/21/11 06:21 AM Numb hands. Poor circulation?
Jmeyers Offline

Registered: 11/22/10
Posts: 17
Loc: Northern New Jersey
Hey all, yesterday I was hiking with a friend of mine and she was telling me how when she hikes she loses feeling in her hands. It was the last of the nice weather so it wasn't the cold, I suggested that it could be her pack straps cutting off blood flow to her arms but I'm not a doctor so I don't know. It's possible she just has poor circulation but her other extremities were fine. Any insight on this?
_________________________ <-- There's my two cents. Reviews and other things so go trough the blog archive. Check it out and leave comments.

#146747 - 02/21/11 10:01 AM Re: Numb hands. Poor circulation? [Re: Jmeyers]
lori Offline

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
The pack strap theory is easy to test. If the pack isn't putting any pressure on her shoulders, it's not that. If the straps are too tight, tighten the hip belt and loosen the straps, adjusting the weight onto her hips. If that isn't possible, wrong size pack, or just the wrong pack.

My hands used to swell and do get tingly when it's very cold. Eventually the fingertips go numb. The swelling goes away if I use them while hiking - to hold something or use trekking poles. The cold is easy, wear glove liners/gloves appropriate to the temps, or hike with hands in pockets.

I doubt it's the blood flow theory....
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki

#146750 - 02/21/11 10:48 AM Re: Numb hands. Poor circulation? [Re: Jmeyers]
BrianLe Offline

Registered: 02/26/07
Posts: 1149
Loc: Washington State, King County
I imagine it would be difficult for even a medical professional to diagnose this from "afar", especially with so little information. You might look up Raynaud's phenomenon; I've known a surprising number of hikers who have that, but I believe it isn't just hands but also feet --- were her feet cold too?

And was she wearing gloves or mittens or any sort of handwear? Was it windy at all?

It certainly couldn't hurt for her to get a pair of decent mittens (not gloves). It also might not be a bad idea to write down complete details of this --- especially if it recurs --- and bring it up at her next physical exam with an actual doctor.
Brian Lewis

#146753 - 02/21/11 01:47 PM Re: Numb hands. Poor circulation? [Re: BrianLe]
billstephenson Offline

Registered: 02/07/07
Posts: 3915
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
I have Raynaud's syndrome, so did my father. It doesn't have to be very cold for it to show up. Among other causes, years of hammering steel and welding is what got to my father and I. I suspect a few deep gashes in those fingers didn't help either, but all were a part of the occupation we were in.

What happened to my father, and now to me, is that the tips of our middle fingers turn white and numb. They look dead. This usually happens when I've been sitting a long time and then head outside in cold or clammy weather.

It's not hard to get the blood back into them though. I force it into the afflicted finger with my thumb of the other hand by massaging from the base of my palm up towards the finger and by rubbing my hands together vigorously. You can also swing your arm around like a windmill to force the blood into your fingers. Once you've got the color back the numbness goes away and generally it doesn't reappear.

I know several other men that have it, most all worked in the trades, but I've never met a woman that has it, at least not that I know of.


"You want to go where?"

#146760 - 02/21/11 03:48 PM Re: Numb hands. Poor circulation? [Re: Jmeyers]
OregonMouse Offline

Registered: 02/03/06
Posts: 6520
Loc: Gateway to Columbia Gorge
I know quite a few people who develop some swelling in the hands (which will cause numbness) when backpacking--it's due to the hands hanging down all day. Using trekking poles (which keeps your hands higher up as well as exercising your arms) solves this difficulty for most. Some like to use loops for the hands that attach to the pack shoulder straps. This also keeps the hands higher, although it eliminates the extra exercise.

Since most of your backpack weight should be on your hips, your shoulder straps should be relatively loose--not so loose as to let the pack bounce around, but loose enough not to affect circulation.

If using trekking poles doesn't solve the problem, or if it occurs only in cold weather, then Reynaud's should be considered. However, my experience (my daughter has it) is that it is far more apt to occur in the feet.
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view--E. Abbey

#146764 - 02/21/11 04:05 PM Re: Numb hands. Poor circulation? [Re: billstephenson]
phat Offline

Registered: 06/24/07
Posts: 4107
Loc: Alberta, Canada
Originally Posted By billstephenson
I have Raynaud's syndrome...

I know several other men that have it, most all worked in the trades, but I've never met a woman that has it, at least not that I know of.

My wife has it... we call it "zombie hand.."

Any fool can be uncomfortable...
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#146777 - 02/21/11 06:53 PM Re: Numb hands. Poor circulation? [Re: Jmeyers]
midnightsun03 Offline

Registered: 08/06/03
Posts: 2936
Loc: Alaska
Pack straps put pressure on nerves that ennervate the hands and fingers. You can actually develop areas of numbness on the shoulders that persist even after you stop wearing a pack. The pack could also be putting compression on the neck that would impinge on the nerves that run into the hands. Or it could be stretching the nerves that come off her neck by making her shoulders drop further than normal. If the problem occurs even without a pack on, however, it could be something different.

If it is pack related then she needs to change how she loads her pack and/or get a different pack. If she packs the heavier weight too far from her center of gravity, that can change her biomechanics and cause her to stand or walk with an unnatural posture. It might help to take a photo of her standing "normally" (from the front and from the side) and then take a photo loaded down with a pack and see how much her posture changes.

YMMV. Viewer discretion is advised.

#146785 - 02/21/11 07:36 PM Re: Numb hands. Poor circulation? [Re: Jmeyers]
Joshuatree Offline

Registered: 12/30/10
Posts: 62
Loc: Wisconsin
I would guess she isn't moving her arms enough if she lets her arms just hang at her sides its probley affecting blood flow. I would get her a pair of cheap treking poles to try. it will elevate her arms and get the blood moving easier. Wallyworld or alot sporting goods stores will have them for around 20 bucks, I have heard the swiss brand from walmart is a a good value.
I had the same thing happen to me every once in a while. I was letting my arms hang and it was cause the blood to pool. Its the same as locking your knees when you have to stand up in a choir or wedding can cause you to faint from the blood pooling in your legs.
TThe treking poles have helped with the arm numbness. I would also think the poles might help take some of the strain off of her knees as well especially up and down hills. I've noticed they take a fair amount of pressure off my knees.

#146815 - 02/22/11 09:30 AM Re: Numb hands. Poor circulation? [Re: Jmeyers]
gorge_medic Offline

Registered: 08/06/08
Posts: 131
Loc: Kentucky
Good points so far. I'd also look at whether or not your friend was wearing properly-fitting gloves. Cold extremities and frostbite are affected not only by ambient temps but also perfusion. Pack straps might be an issue, but the major artery (subclavian) that might be affected is hidden underneath the clavicle to protect it from trauma; it should bear the weight of your pack fairly well (depending on the pack weight). tight-fitting gloves or elastic cuffs on your clothing can also influence bloodflow to your hands, particularly if they're swelling from hanging down all day.

#147426 - 03/06/11 07:59 AM Re: Numb hands. Poor circulation? [Re: Jmeyers]
CamperMom Offline

Registered: 01/04/02
Posts: 1201
Loc: Eastern MA, USA
Have your friend check for Thoracic Outlet Syndrom. One easy way is to have a second person locate her radial (wrist) pulse and monitor it as she raises each arm straight out from her side, over her head. If the pulse fades out, check in with her doc, or, if her insurance allows a visit w/o a referral, to a physical therapist.


#147429 - 03/06/11 10:02 AM Re: Numb hands. Poor circulation? [Re: midnightsun03]
lori Offline

Registered: 01/22/08
Posts: 2801
If midnightsun's on track and the person in the OP's post isn't able to resolve the issue by packing and repacking to shift the weight/center of balance, look at Aarn packs.

If you click through to my website below and select gear reviews you will see that I am in the middle of testing one, as are two other people. I've seen in various forums questions about these packs and whether they work as advertised. The pack seats the weight on your hips quite firmly and the center of balance shifts lower.
"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few." Shunryu Suzuki

#147587 - 03/10/11 12:53 AM Re: Numb hands. Poor circulation? [Re: Jmeyers]
Paul Offline

Registered: 09/30/02
Posts: 778
Loc: California
Numb hands can be a circulation thing or a nerve issue. If the hands feel warm to the touch (obviously someone else's touch) but have reduced or no sensation, then it is probably a nerve issue. Both circulation and nerve function can be affected by the pressure of shoulder straps. If the pack is adjusted properly for her and the issue persists, she should probably try another pack, as a small variation in the distribution of the pressure can make a significant difference.

#148648 - 03/30/11 11:49 PM Re: Numb hands. Poor circulation? [Re: BrianLe]
GDeadphans Offline

Registered: 12/26/08
Posts: 382
Loc: Maine/New Jersey
Originally Posted By BrianLe
You might look up Raynaud's phenomenon; I've known a surprising number of hikers who have that, but I believe it isn't just hands but also feet --- were her feet cold too?

So curiosity got to me, I had to look it up. And wow, that is pretty interesting. Never heard of it before.
"To me, hammocking is relaxing, laying, swaying. A steady slow morphine drip without the risk of renal failure." - Dale Gribbel


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