How Does The Cooler Winter Weather Affect Our Feet - And How Do We Protect Them?

How Does The Cooler Winter Weather Affect Our Feet - And How Do We Protect Them?

We’ve started lighting the fireplace, long put away our sandals and instead dug out our merino socks - which can only mean one thing. Winter! As podiatrists in this time, it also means that over the coming months, we can expect to see an influx of patients with very specific problems that have arisen from the cooler winter temperatures. It happens every year - so this year, we thought we’d get in early to give you the down-low on the top 5 winter problems we often see - and what you can be doing to keep your feet protected.

1. Raynaud’s

Whether you refer to it as Raynaud’s syndrome or phenomenon, this is a condition that affects your feet and hands and is triggered by cool temperatures. You’ll know if you’re being affected because you’ll notice parts of your feet, particularly the toes, are turning stark white, resulting in patchy discolouration with other areas potentially turning red or blue/purple. Your feet may also feel very cold and numb.

Raynaud’s is caused by the narrowing of the vessels in your feet, diminishing the blood flow. Interestingly, increased levels of stress may also produce the symptoms of Raynaud’s. As normal blood flow eventually returns, your feet may feel hot, tingly, throbbing or swollen.

What should you do?

Keeping your feet warm and dry is #1. When your feet are warm, your blood vessels dilate (widen), promoting circulation and hence helping to prevent episodes of Raynaud’s.

2. Dry, cracked skin

Did you know that the soles of your feet don’t have oil glands? Yep! This means that, firstly, we don’t go slipping around the floor (thankfully!), and secondly, our feet are prone to drying out when combined with the cooler temperatures. When the skin is dry, the sensation at our feet decreases and we are more prone to developing callus and having that hard, dry skin crack - especially at the heels.

What should you do?

This one is simple: moisture daily. That’s it! As you have no oil glands to keep the skin moist, you’re substituting with regular (daily) moisturiser use. You don’t need any fancy expensive moisture from leading skincare brands, either. Use your regular moisturiser to keep your skin smooth, supple and healthy. If you notice large areas of callus building up (often as a result of high pressure from your foot biomechanics), have it reduced by your podiatrist. Same with any cracks that form.

3. Fungal nail and skin infections

Fungus thrives in warm, moist and dark environments. Yep - just like the ones in our enclosed winter shoes and warmer socks that we spend all day in. Paired with increased rainfall to dampen our shoes - and increased sweating in our shoes from wearing our closed-in shoes and warmer socks all day - and we’ve created the perfect breeding ground for fungal infections.

Of course, fungal infections don’t just happen - the fungal spores must be contracted from somewhere. Whether that’s from a family member or at a friends house, at your local gym or swimming pool - if you do pick it up, there’s a good chance that the infection will take hold and spread at a faster rate than in the summer, where our time in bare feet and sandals helps our feet to dry out.

What should you do?

Dry your feet well after every shower and when removing your feet from the enclosed shoes you’ve spent all day in. If your shoes get wet, remove them, dry them completely before wearing them again, and dry your feet. Wash and dry your socks well. Make sure to get in the spaces between your toes when washing and drying your feet. Use sprays and powders on your feet or in your shoes to help keep them dry or promote an anti-fungal environment. If you do notice the signs of a fungal nail infection (discolouration or patches in your toenails) or athlete’s foot (bubbles in the skin, drier skin, itchiness or redness), come see us to have it treated using the right anti-fungal care. The sooner a fungal infection is picked up, the easier it is to treat and eliminate.

4. Ingrown toenails

Colder temperatures mean warmer, and often thicker, socks. Thicker socks mean less room in the shoes, paired with enclosed shoes that only have a specific width at the toebox around the toes. This means that more people tend to squash their feet in to fit with their shoes and socks, and as their toenails grow, there is less room for them. So the nails push up against the skin, and the risk of developing an ingrown toenail skyrockets.

What should you do?

Keep your nails trimmed, straight across the nail, and not down into the sides. If your toes are feeling uncomfortable and cramped in thick socks, opt for thinner socks that are made from a warm and hard-wearing material like merino.

5. Amplified effects of diabetes on the feet (feeling and blood flow)

If you have diabetes, you’ll know that its effects on your nerves and blood vessels mean that your sensation (ability to feel) and circulation (blood flow) at the feet worsen over time. The colder temperatures can amplify these effects, much like the process behind Raynaud’s. This means it’s an absolutely crucial time to be carefully monitoring your feet, ensuring that you don’t sustain any cuts or wounds that you haven’t been able to feel and aren’t able to heal effectively, hence making them vulnerable to infection.

What should you do?

Check your feet every day - both the top and bottom, holding the bottom of your feet up to a mirror if you can’t turn the foot to see the bottom. Protect your feet and keep them warm at all times - including wearing socks and slippers inside the house. Avoid exposing your feet to direct heat - like open fires or directly onto hot water bottles, in case your sensation has diminished and you’re unable to feel an upcoming burn. Keep your feet moisturised to promote as much feeling at the feet as possible. Make sure you’ve had your annual diabetic foot health check so you’re completely aware of your foot health status and the specific precautions you should be taking.

What about chilblains?

Ah, yes. Chilblains definitely make our top five - and because they’re so common, we’ve actually created a separate blog especially for them! See it here so you can learn all about what chilblains are, what causes them, your symptoms, and what you can do to prevent and manage this problem.

If you’re worried about what’s happening with your feet - come and see us

If you’re concerned about anything you’ve noticed about your feet and legs, now is the time to get them assessed and treated - before anything worsens. Book your appointment online by clicking here or call us on (07) 4162 7633.