What are Common Cold Weather Foot Problems?

What are Common Cold Weather Foot Problems?

When the weather gets cooler in the wintertime, the feet and especially the toes are susceptible to injury.  Here in Michigan, we may be more aware of these conditions as temperatures linger in the 30s and lower for many months.  Some people suffer simply from dry skin, while others can develop serious problems like frostbite.  

Immersion foot syndromes occur when temperatures are cool but not freezing (even in the 60s), and feet are exposed to damp unsanitary conditions for a prolonged period of time.  “Trench Foot” was named because of the many soldiers who developed this painful condition in the trenches of World War I.  The feet may become numb, turn red or blue, and eventually develop blisters or open sores.  If left untreated, trench foot usually leads to gangrene which can result in amputations.  

Frostbite occurs when freezing temperatures damages tissue, leading to cellular destruction.  In its initial stages it can be referred to as “frost nip”.  When temperatures reach 32 degrees or below, blood vessels constrict to help preserve core body temperature, which is the body’s defense mechanism.  After a long period, the lack of blood flow leads to eventual freezing and death of skin tissues.  The first stage of frostbite is painful and involves itching, but it only involves the skin’s top layers.  Second degree frostbite usually blisters 1-2 days after beginning to freeze, and can lead to permanent insensitivity to both heat and cold.  Third and fourth degrees involve deeper structures and causes blood-filled blisters.  The extent of damage may take months to assess, and can involve surgery to remove the dead tissue.

Treating cold injuries involves gentle re-warming, with caution against using difficult to control methods, such as a fire or electric heater.  After first locating a stable, warm environment and wrapping the affected area in blankets, it is recommended to slowly re-warm tissues by submerging the area in 100-105 degree water.  Also, splinting the affected area will prevent further damage caused from movement to the frozen tissue.  Therefore, rubbing, shaking or massaging frostbitten areas in an attempt to re-warm is not helpful in the long run.  And remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Thank you for visiting our website!  Please continue to learn more about your foot care needs by reading other informative articles and by visiting our helpful links.  NorthPointe Foot & Ankle is located in Berkley, MI and has been serving people around the Southfield, Berkley, Ferndale, and Royal Oak area for over 30 years.  Request an appointment via our website or call our office at (248) 545-0100.