For those of us that live in Northern areas the cold weather is on it's way. I live just outside of Toronto so I will be dealing with freezing temperatures for 4-5 months of the year. If my life were a singular function of playing guitar I would just stay in my warm music room until spring thaw. But truth be known, I do enjoy getting out for many winter activities.
But not without it's cost; cold hands and making music don't get along. You can do serious damage by forcing yourself to play with cold hands.
There is a common condition known as Raynaud's disease, where the tiny arteries in the periphery of the body, notably the fingers, toes and even ear lobes are unduly reactive to even moderate degrees of cold weather and go into severe spasm. This typically produces attacks of pallor, numbness and discomfort in the fingers.
It is not actually a disease as such, more an intense sensitivity to cool weather. First the fingers turn white as the arteries shrink and blood flow is interrupted, then fingers may turn blue as trapped blood in the fingers loses it's oxygen and then later when the fingers and toes warm up again, they become red and start to throb as blood is pumped back into the circulation once more. Certain things are likely to make it worse such as smoking and repetitive use of vibrating tools (think jack-hammer). The condition is treated by the use of gloves and socks (electrically heated if necessary), and antispasmodic medications to prevent the spasm in the arteries. *
To keep the blood (and music) flowing for years to come hear are some helpful tips:
- Make sure to wear gloves every time you go out.
- Make your schedule so that you never practice music after being out.
- Dress warm in layers to keep your body temperature steady.
- Buy a steering-wheel heater for your car as the cold plastic will suck the heat right out of your hands, even with gloves.
- Do some exercise to warm your body and get the blood flowing.
If your hands do get cold you can put them in warm water until they warm up. Do some exercise to get the blood flowing.
Another help is infrared therapy gloves. This is a safe, natural and cost effective way to help restore oxygen enriched blood flow right down to your finger tips. Wearing these gloves will allow gentle far infrared rays' to penetrate deep within the skin and soft tissues of your hands and fingers. Helping to restore vital micro-circulation and deliver fresh oxygen and nutrients right down to your tiniest capillaries. They are reasonably priced and available at many online stores.
Pianist Glen Gould was in the habit of soaking his hands and wrists in hot water before concerts and recording sessions. Like a surgeon washing and scrubbing his hands before surgery, Gould carried out his task of hand-soaking with a compelling commitment, sometimes even getting others to massage the heat into his arms, allowing him to "play with newborn fingers".
I have played in a few outdoor venues in the cold. In those days I was playing mostly electric bass and due to the size of the instrument I could use fingerless gloves to keep warm. This may not be possible with other instrument such as guitar or mandolin where you are required to make small movements quickly.
If you plan ahead you will have no problems. Remember the old saying, An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So keep your hands away from the cold and warm your body before playing music and you will enjoy your skills for a lifetime.
Justin Lee, guitar, bass, mandolin
*Quote from Dr. Hilary Jones, GP