2

I have quite thin fingers and they're getting cold quite fast. As I child, I didn't enjoy snowball wars because the contact with snow was quickly getting quite painful for me.

Are people with thick fingers generally more resistant to cold hands? Or there's no such simple relationship?

6
  • for a snowball war you need gloves. otherwise of course it's cold and painful
    – njzk2
    Commented Jan 28, 2022 at 22:52
  • 1
    My husband had thicker fingers than mine, but they got cold faster; he had poorer circulation in his hands and in his hands only. Otherwise, he was much less sensitive to cold than I was.
    – ab2
    Commented Jan 29, 2022 at 4:37
  • 4
    Anecdotally, there is no simple relationship - similar to @ab2, I know folks who I go cold water swimming with. SOme require gloves in sub 5C water, others don't. Nothing to do with size or shape of fingers - appears to be all about circulation and metabolism
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Jan 30, 2022 at 16:44
  • Another confounding factor is arthritis, forms of which can cause fingers to swell around the joints. Some people find cold water beneficial, some find it more painful than before, some even find both pain from the cold during immersion and relief from the arthritic pain afterwards.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 31, 2022 at 9:35
  • Do your fingers actually turn white? My husband's did. But not to the point where doc said to worry.
    – ab2
    Commented Jan 31, 2022 at 19:18

3 Answers 3

1

I'll try to tackle this question from the opposite side: There are some groups of people who can (have to) tolerate cold around their hands well and who are relatively unlikely to have thin fingers.

There have been studies on cold acclimatization wrt. the hands e.g. on fishermen, worker who fillet fish, lumbermen (*) finding that they have faster vasodilatation and less vasoconstriction when their hands are exposed to cold than people who are not acclimatized.
So firstly, we can note that cold resistance of hands and fingers is something that can (to some extent) be trained. See also my other answer on cold acclimatization of fingers.

However, this may be easier for some than for others (which would likely lead to self-selection).

The mentioned professions all also require strength in the hands, which I'd expect to correlate (positively) with hand/finger size. You rarely see those professionals having "piano player hands".

Indeed, Hand-grip athletes, besides higher grip strength, have been found to have not only larger hands in general and, but also larger finger perimeters than a non-athlete control group (also after correcting for body weight as overall size surrogate).
In addition, muscles are where we produce lots of the heat, not only excess heat as side effect of mechanical work, but also to keep up body temperature. Having muscular hands may also help in this way keeping hands and even the fingers warm.

*I have no idea whether the "Eskimo" and "Arctic Indians" they also list in the reference linked in the other answer typically have thin or thick fingers - however, I'd expect a large overlap with the aforementioned professions)

3
  • The acclimatization only goes so far and I speak from personal experience of daily acclimatization while walking out there each day whole winter regardless of blizzards. All acclimatization does is that it isn't painful in the morning when 3 minutes after you walk out of your 70F bedroom, you step out into -40F wind-chill to walk your dog. And you can be a bit lazy with layering on Day 3-30 of -40F spell (unlike day 1 and day 2). Probably the best thing about acclimatization is that when it warms up to -20F, it feels like summer and you can spend some [short] time without gloves outside :)
    – 3D Coder
    Commented Apr 30, 2022 at 15:34
  • @3DCoder: of course cold acclimatization is limited. What I'm saying, though, is that it comes easier to some than to others. (And enjoying making snow balls with bare fingers does require some cold acclimatization. An amount of acclimatization that was outside the what OP achieved.) And some to whom it is likely to have come more easily (otherwise they likely wouldn't have lasted in those professions) tend [need] to have thicker fingers. I'm not claiming whether hens or eggs were first, or they invariably come together. Commented Apr 30, 2022 at 18:22
  • Oh, and we have at least 3 different mechanisms of cold acclimatization: the fastest one is via heat production in muscles. Then comes burning of brown fat (very important in new borns, much less so in most adults), and finally basic metabolic rate adjustments via the thyroid with takes several weeks. BTW, acclimatization is always driven by exposure (though not too much, see your frost bites) Commented Apr 30, 2022 at 18:27
0

I can actually confirm this from personal experience that when I was 120 pounds heavier, I was way less sensitive to wind-chill and frostbites. I lost last 60 pounds during the winter and I did, in real time, notice how I had to start using thicker glove combos, despite same wind-chill as earlier. You may think that a tiny layer of fat is not going to do much difference, but I can assure you that the difference is very real and very painful. And contrary to popular misconception, frostbite is unrelated to core heat. You can be sweating in your core, yet you will have stage 1 (or 2) frostbite on your hands. Happens to me all the time.

The reason is that it's very easy to have multiple layers for your core (thermal shirts, long-sleeve shirts, sweater vests, puffer vest and finally a parka). But even with largest gloves, you will be hard-pressed to be able to have 4 layers of gloves, unless your hands are particularly tiny.

Of course, it also depends on the wind-chill. There is a tremendous difference between -40 'F air (zero wind-chill) and 0 'F air (-20 wind-chill). The second one, despite being 20 degrees warmer is way more painful on your hands (particularly if they had too many frostbites) than -40 'F air. May not make much sense on paper, but you sure can feel the difference out there instantly :-)

Probably the single most important factor is that you may have had one too many frostbites (even though it was just reversible stage 1-2). Then your fingers will be extremely sensitive (effectively compounding the absence of fat), while other people walking with you in your group who didn't experience many frostbites, won't notice anything at all.

10
  • When you (substantially) lose weight, and in particular if you lose it intentionally (i.e. not primarily because of some illness - which could have all sorts of effects), your basic metabolic rate goes down. Which means that you'll easier go into centralized blood flow, i.e. expending less energy (heat) on keeping fingers (and toes) warm. Not sure whether much can be concluded from this situation for people with constant weight. Commented Apr 27, 2022 at 15:38
  • @cbeleitesunhappywithSX How exactly does lower BMR translate into less blood flow into extremities ? Your heart still has to pump the blood the same way as when you were 120 pounds heavier. Except it does not have to work as hard as before, because you are more fit, your BP is down. Before losing 120 pounds, I wouldn't be able to wear 3 pairs of gloves, as my hands simply would not physically fit. Now I have to, as 2 pairs are not cutting it (and I got 25+ different pairs of gloves to find best combo) anymore. At -60F, I got frostbite within 15 minutes (and I had 3 pairs of gloves layered).
    – 3D Coder
    Commented Apr 30, 2022 at 15:15
  • A few things, being more fit because you lost weight is good. Concratulations. In that process, you may have gained or lost muscle mass. While actually losing weight, one typically loses muscle as well, though, as long as more weight is lost, the same activities are less strenuous - which we typically describe as "more fit". How ever much our intention is set on losing fat, our body is rather hard-wired to be concerned when energy balance is negative. It tries to counteract by saving energy, and this is done (among other mechanisms) by lowering base metabolic rate. In consequence... Commented Apr 30, 2022 at 18:00
  • 1
    To go on with the numbers, 3200 kcal - 1900 kcal = 1300 kcal. In Wh, that's 3700 Wh - 2200 Wh = 1500 Wh, all per day. We extract about 90 % of the energy in our food. Iow, you went from 140 W average down to 80 W, or 60 W less. 80 W should be ≈ your BMR, and that pretty much completely turns into heat. The highes quotes of muscle energy efficiency I know of are about 25 % (more commonly 20 % are assumed). Thus, of the additional 60 W you had before, at the very least 3/4 = 45 W turned into heat. That is, you have now only 60 - 65 % of the avg. heating power available that you had before. Commented Jun 10, 2022 at 13:29
  • 1
    @cbeleitesunhappywithSX "That is, you have now only 60 - 65 % of the avg. heating power available that you had before" : WOW, never thought of it that way. So, it's not about not having thick fingers anymore (my hands are loose in the same gloves from 2 yrs ago). Basically, if I get it right, all those additional 60/45W was an additional heat being produced. And it's not just when it's -40 F either. Last summer, in August, when wind-chills got down to around 38 'F (that happens in August here in ND), I had to pull full winter gear, as it was mighty cold, and I could not comprehend it.Now I do.
    – 3D Coder
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 11:18
0

Having extreme thick or thin fingers is often because of health problems or a change in you (health) condition.
Health problems which lead to thick or extreme thin fingers often come with additional problems like poor circulation, which in turn can lead to cold fingers.

A healthy person does not have enough fat on their fingers to insulate them, so blood going through will have to keep them warm.

Thick fingers are often liquid filled, not draining the normal body fluids in the normal way, this in itself can lead to loss of blood circulation and less heating up of the fingers.

The body conserves the heat in the core if it senses too much heath loss, which leaves the fingers in the least warm regions.

Keeping bloodflow by moving your fingers and the whole arms and hands, as well as not getting throughly cold should do if there are no medical reasons. Or extreme weather conditions, your body is not build on -40. Nor is it build on playing with snow.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.