Now that the weather has finally cooled off, it actually feels like winter. And, with winter’s arrival, we get a whole new set of foot worries. That’s because cold, wet conditions can pose major risks to our foot health. Thankfully, with smart planning and careful attention, you can avoid complications related to outdoor conditions. This is what you need to know.

The Danger of Letting Your Feet Stay Wet If your feet stay in wet boots for extended periods of time, you're increasing your risk of foot infection

Typically, if your feet get wet, you’d rush to change into warm, dry foot wear. In winter, however, that’s not always possible. Let’s say you’re heading for the El train, on your way to work, and you step in a big, slushy puddle. You may not be able to change those boots until you get into the office. And that could be a problem. Why? When you’re stuck in wet shoes, especially when the weather is freezing, you’re increasing your risk of developing trench foot, a painful and potentially serious medical condition.

While trench foot is rare these days, once upon a time (during WWI) it killed almost 80,000 soldiers. These days, you aren’t likely to die from trench foot, but it could cause some nasty complications. To protect yourself, make sure to keep a warm, dry pair of socks in your bag or pocket. You should also learn the symptoms so you can seek early intervention. Signs of trench foot include:

  • blisters
  • redness
  • dead skin that flakes off
  • coldness
  • heaviness
  • numbness
  • pain when exposed to heat
  • itching
  • prickly or tingly sensation

If you notice any of these symptoms, especially if your feet have been in cold, damp conditions, see your podiatrist right away.

Speed Heating Lead to Foot Complications

Gradually warming your feet with socks and a fire is better than rapidly reheating feet in hot water or against a radiatorIt’s no secret that, when you are stuck outside in Chicago-land, your whole body will get cold. Especially your feet. So, it’s only natural that you’d rush to warm up just as soon as you head indoors. Unfortunately, however, that could pose a threat to your health. Here’s the story.

Let’s say you’ve been outside for a while and you come indoors with freezing toes. So, in order to get warm fast, you stick those feet by your radiator. On the one hand, your feet will warm up rapidly, which may feel good initially. But, the contrast between the cold and warmth is problematic: it can cause the tiny blood vessels in your feet to rapidly dilate. And that dilations can leave your feet with bruises; it can cause you to start bleeding. It could even increase your risk of a chilblain, which is a painful type of inflammation that develops in your skin’s small blood vessels. While chilblains typically clear up in a few days or weeks, they can be painful while you have them, causing swelling, itching and pain.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to avoid this problem. First, protect your skin from prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. But, if you do experience a major chill, give your feet (and the rest of you) the opportunity to warm up gradually, by putting on an extra pair of socks or slippers, and walking a few laps around your house to slowly increase warming blood flow to the area.

Bulky Socks Aren’t Best for Your Feet

If you always reach for those thick, cozy socks in the winter months, you may not be making the best choice for your feet. Thick, bulky socks may provide some additional warmth, but they will also affect the way your shoes fit; they may increase rubbing in your shoes, which will lead to more blisters…and plenty of discomfort.

So, instead of going thicker on your socks, embrace the idea of layering. Between each set of socks, you’ll create a pocket of warmer air, which will provide extra insulation against the colder temperatures. And, as long as you stick to natural fibers like wool, you won’t even have to add so many layers to enjoy protection from the cold.

Stay Away from All-Day Snow Boot Excursions Wear snow boots in the snow...but regular shoes the rest of your day, if you want to avoid foot problems like fungal infections!

Snow boots are the perfect footwear for times when you have to stay outside in freezing cold temperatures. But, when you get back inside to warmer environments? Those boots could cause major problems.

When you’re in boots and in a warm environment, your feet are probably going to sweat. And, when that sweat gets trapped against your feet, you create a warm, moist environment that becomes a perfect breeding ground for foot fungus. Not to mention the fact that, if you go back outside, that trapped sweat will get cold and hurt your feet even more as the temperature drops.

Want to avoid issues? Reserve your snow boots for outdoor wear only. Carry a pair of regular shoes with you that you can slip on for your indoor stays. The added bonus of this tip? While you’re indoors wearing different shoes, you can dry out those boots to avoid problems when it’s time to head outside again.

Well, now you know some of the threats facing your feet during the long winter months ahead. But, you’ve also scored some valuable tips for protecting yourself. And, if you are already dealing with cold-weather foot complications, just remember: your Elmhurst podiatrists are here to help. Just stop by the office as soon as you see a problem so we can keep you comfortable through all the temperature dips we’ve still got coming.


Jordana White
Jordana Rothstein White
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