With cold weather on the horizon, podiatrists at Temple University’s School of Podiatric Medicine warn that people of all ages need to take precautions to protect their feet from cold-related injuries like frostbite, ankle sprains and fractures.

Fighting Frostbite
Prolonged exposure to harsh winter conditions can cause damage to the skin and underlying tissues, or frostbite. During the cold weather months, those who work outdoors and winter sports enthusiasts are particularly vulnerable. Serious cases of frostbite have been known to lead to amputation of a limb or even death. At the very least, the sufferer can experience severe numbness and pain as the area thaws.

“Warm towels and water should be used to warm the affected area at the first sign of numbness. The person should then see a doctor, who can determine if there’s any tissue damage,” said James B. McGuire, D.P.M., assistant professor of podiatric medicine.

Poor circulation can also lead to frostbite. The elderly, smokers, caffeine drinkers and people with illnesses characterized by poor circulation, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism and arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), are all prone to this type of injury. Alcohol and the use of certain drugs or medications may also put a person at risk by hindering his or her ability to recognize the warning signs.

“Dressing properly is the best defense against the problems that severe weather causes,” said McGuire. “But it is important to remember that proper foot gear is just as important as a warm coat, hat and gloves.”

Because extreme cold and wet clothes put exposed areas such as the feet and toes in jeopardy, well-insulated shoes and boots are a must, McGuire stressed. And socks made from acrylic keep feet dry by slicking away perspiration from inside shoes and boots.

Cold Weather Injuries
Winter athletes should check their boots and shoes on a yearly basis to ensure proper fit. Too-tight or loose footwear can cause blisters and abrasions, impair control and lead to accidents.

“For skiers, high speeds and gravity pressure raise the probability of injuring the lower extremities. Ice skating and hockey pose added risk to the ankle region during quick turns and stops,” said McGuire.

But serious wintertime injuries are not problems solely for athletes.

“Ankle sprains and ankle fractures are much more prevalent this time of year for everyone. Ice and snow create the impetus for injury by allowing the foot to twist on the leg in such a way that ligaments and bone are damaged,” said Howard Palamarchuk., assistant professor of podiatric surgery.

According to Palamarchuk, initial treatment for these injuries should include rest, ice, immobilization, compressive wraps and elevation (commonly known as RIICE). He advises that any ankle or foot injury with pain and swelling beyond 48 hours be checked out by a podiatric physician.