Now that winter weather is here and your feet are exposed to the hazardous combination of cold, damp winter footwear and dry indoor heat, the risk for foot problems is greater than ever.
In winter, people often hide their feet away in their boots, and as the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind." In fact, most people spend more time “winterizing” their cars than their feet.
Dr. Michael Nirenberg, a Crown Point podiatrist, sees firsthand how cold weather, often combined with wetness or simply a little moisture inside boots, can cause serious foot problems. The worst of these is frostbite and gangrene, but lesser problems, such as dry, cracking skin, can lead to infections and in some cases, amputations.
Nirenberg gives 11 methods of keeping your feet healthy during the cold winter months.
- Wear the correct size boots. Cold temperature causes the blood vessels in our feet and toes to constrict, lessening the blood flow to our toes. To help maintain good circulation in the winter, avoid tight-fitting boots, which can pinch the toes and decrease circulation. Boots that fit too loosely may cause feet to slip and slide, potentially leading to blisters and infections.
- Wear the right socks. Sock technology is quite sophisticated these days and many athletic socks wick moisture away from the skin quite effectively. One of the worst combinations for feet is cold temperature and moisture. Together, this hazardous mix can lead to a macerated, prune-like foot that is prone to blisters and infections. Wearing the correct socks can lessen or prevent moisture. Wear cotton-blend or wool socks rather than 100 percent cotton socks. And make sure the socks fit correctly.
- Always wear footwear while outside. This might seem obvious, but many people don’t take the time to put on socks and shoes or boots for simple tasks, such as taking out the garbage or retrieving the newspaper. There have been cases of people developing frostbite on the bottom of their feet from just walking barefoot on cold asphalt, leading to gangrene. The risk is greater for people with poor circulation or diabetes.
- Don’t ignore skin problems on your feet. The alternating cold outside/warm inside cycle often promotes dry, cracked skin on your feet, potentially leading to serious infections and pain. Use hydrating creams and lotions on dry skin and callouses. The most common place for dry skin is around the heels.
- Wear only dry shoes or boots. Rain, sleet and snow may cause the inside of shoes and boots to become damp. It is important to let the shoe or boot dry thoroughly before wearing it. Wetness can help bring on a host of problems, including frostbite.
- Look for waterproof, not water resistant. When buying boots, they should be waterproof, not water resistant. If boots are not waterproof, purchase a waterproofing spray to help prevent water from entering footwear.
- Use foot powder. To prevent moisture from accumulating, put foot powder,or talcum between your toes each day. Use a powder that does not clump up. If you walk or exercise excessively outside or if your feet tend to perspire, you should apply powder more than once a day. Be sure to wipe the old powder off your feet and toes before sprinkling more on.
- Practice good foot hygiene. Change your socks and wash your feet with soap and water daily. Be sure to dry your feet well, especially between the toes before slipping on boots. Moisture, especially between the toes, in the cold weather can promote blisters and open sores.
- Let your feet breathe. There are few safe places to walk barefoot. However, the more you can air out your feet, the better. At night in bed is a good time to let the air at them.
- Check your feet regularly. It’s amazing how many people don’t look at their feet, or if they do see a problem or have pain, they shove their foot back into their boots and try to forget about it. However, small sores, blisters or other problems can become serious. When examining your feet, be sure to check between the toes, as this is a common area for problems to start. Toenails that become ingrown are prone to infection. If you have trouble bending over to see the bottom of your feet, have someone check your feet for you or use a mirror to see underneath.
- Seek help promptly. Foot problems can be much more serious than they appear. Sometimes, diabetics, due to the sensation in their foot diminishing, can develop an open wound and infection and not feel any pain. Because it doesn’t hurt, oftentimes they believe it isn’t serious and let infections fester too long before seeking medical care.