Cold Weather Tips to Protect Your Feet and Ankles
Foot and ankle surgeons provide essential winter safety advice
It is never a good time for a foot or ankle injury, but some might consider the colder months to be the most inconvenient time to have their feet or ankles out of commission. Ironically, it is during the winter when many injuries in the lower extremities occur due to weather-related incidents.
From ankle sprains, to frostbite to broken toes, the damage can vary. However, by taking proper preventive measures, a person can decrease his or her chance of incurring a foot or ankle problem during the colder months, according to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS).
“During the winter months, patients should take extra precaution to keep their feet warm and dry when navigating frigid temps, especially patients who have existing health conditions,” said Massachusetts-based foot and ankle surgeon and ACFAS Fellow Member Greg Catalano, DPM, FACFAS.
In general, most people would do best to take the necessary safety steps to avoid foot and ankle injuries in the winter. However, injury prevention for those who have poor circulation, nerve damage caused by neuropathy or Raynaud’s phenomenon, which is an extreme sensitivity to coldness, can be paramount.
To help, ACFAS provides three critical and easy-to-follow tips that can mean all the difference between comfort and pain in your feet during the winter.
1. Wear the Right Shoes
“Whether caused by wearing high heels on icy surfaces or just sheer accident, falls are one of the most common causes of weather-related injuries. Wintertime falls often result in an ankle sprain, or worse, a broken bone in the foot, ankle, heel or toe. I encourage patients to wear low-heeled shoes or boots with a traction sole to help prevent slipping,” said Dr. Catalano.
Equally important, wearing warm shoes or boots can protect a person’s feet in frigid temps. “Wearing water-resistant, insulated footwear serves as a barrier between the feet and outside elements; this is particularly important for patients with neuropathy or Raynaud’s phenomenon. While different, both conditions block normal blood flow in the feet and places a person at a greater risk of developing additional problems. In some cases, people can incur chilblains, which are itchy, tender, red patches that emerge in response to cold air, or in extreme cases, frostbite,” added Dr. Catalano.
Remember, the thicker the insulation, the greater the protection is between a person’s feet and the adverse effects caused by cold weather.
2. Keep Your Feet Dry
Damp feet can cause cold feet and can be just as harmful.
Wearing moisture-wicking socks will help keep feet dry from internal wetness caused by sweat, while water-resistant footwear will ward off external weather elements that can cause dampness.
“I encourage my patients to wear appropriate socks as a standard practice during the winter months to guard their feet in both foreseen and unexpected inclement weather conditions,” said Dr. Catalano.
For some, inserting foot warmers in their shoes serves as an extra layer of protection. Before doing so, it is best to consult with a foot and ankle surgeon. If worn incorrectly, foot warmers can burn the skin and cause severe harm for those with nerve damage.
3. Get the Right Help
With all that can happen to the feet and ankles during the winter months, it is best to know what to do when faced with a condition or injury brought on by cold weather.
“In the case of a suspected fracture or sprain caused by a fall, see a foot and ankle surgeon or visit the emergency room as soon as possible for prompt diagnosis and treatment. If medical care is unavailable, for temporary relief of symptoms, try the RICE principle—Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. But remember, delaying treatment can result in long-term complications,” added Dr. Catalano.
For feet that are exposed to cold and dampness for a prolonged period, soak them in warm water, avoiding hot water or direct heat. Soaking them in warm water will allow the feet to regain their normal temperature gradually.
For more information on keeping your feet and ankles safe in the winter or to find a foot and ankle surgeon in your area, visit ACFAS’ patient education website at foothealthfacts.org.