January is, on average, the coldest month in the United States, and cold temperatures can mean bad things for your feet. Let’s be honest: We probably think about our feet the least of all our body parts, but in the winter they become the forefront of our concerns when we step outside. Let’s look at a few ways to keep our tootsies toasty warm when the temperatures drop outside.
Socks are an important part of our foot health. Choosing the right sock for the right activity is equally important.
No matter what you are doing, keep your feet dry. Sweat-wicking socks pull moisture away from your skin, keeping you dry and warm. If your feet have been sweating or your socks are wet, make sure you change them as soon as possible. Merino wool is one of the best materials for winter socks because the fibers are thermostatic (temperature regulating) and can hold up to 30% of their weight in water.
Synthetic fibers are also a good option. In some ways, synthetic materials are superior to wool since they can be carefully crafted to meet specific needs with fibers such as Coolmax, Wickspun and Isolfil.
Make sure you always try on your socks with the shoes you intend to wear to ensure comfort.
Although most people living in Ohio have the proper clothing for warm weather, sometimes we find ourselves lacking when we are most in need. Believe it or not, paper is a wonderful insulator in a pinch. Tour de France athletes will grab newspapers from fans and tuck them down their shirts as they reach the summit of the alps to help protect them on the windy descent down the other side. You can do the same by grabbing a smooth piece of newspaper, a couple of napkins, or a paper towel and folding them over and under your toes and sliding your feet into your shoes. (Make sure that whatever you add doesn’t cause more discomfort.) This trick works wonderfully on those dry, cold days, but be careful if it’s wet outside. Water seeping into your shoes can make the paper wet and a wet piece of paper around your toes will make you colder and put your feet at risk for other ailments (such as frostbite!).
Another popular insulator are chemical foot warmers. These are individual, thin warmers that provide up to six hours of heat. Placed above or below your toes, they can add a great amount of heat and protection to cold feet. Just make sure that you don’t place the warmers against bare skin. This is particularly important for children, the elderly and diabetics who may have decreased sensitivity in their feet.
WARMING BACK UP
No matter how hard we try to keep our feet warm, inevitably they will get cold at one point or another in our lives. Make sure you re-warm your feet properly. Gradual heating is the key. Don’t immediately run to put your cold feet on the nearest radiator or close to the fire. Our extremities get cold because the capillaries close to the surface of the skin constrict and divert blood flow to the important organs in our core. This means decreased sensitivity.
Start with some movement. Swing your legs back and forth and wiggle your toes to get the blood flowing. If your feet have gone numb, you may experience some pain or discomfort as they return to normal temperature. Get somewhere warm and check your toes. Try rubbing them between your hands. If some feeling doesn’t return after this, it could be indicative of a more serious problem.
Frostbite is a serious issue and can result in permanent damage if not treated quickly and properly. There are two types of frostbite: superficial and deep. Superficial frostbite occurs when the outer skin is frozen (not just cold, but actually frozen). Deep frostbite reaches all of the way down to the underlying tissue. Both can result in permanent nerve damage or worse.
If you suspect that you may have frostbite, seek immediate medical treatment. Do not try to thaw the affected area if there is any chance that it may refreeze. If you can, avoid walking on frostbitten feet or toes. Again, gradual is the key. Don’t stick your feet in a pot of boiling water. Start with warm water and soak the area until skin appears red and warm. Never use dry heat (fire, radiator, heating pads, etc.). Slow and steady heating ensures even thawing.
You may take pain medication if you need it, as the re-warming process is often painful. Once you have thawed the area, wrap it lightly in clean bandages. Separate toes with cotton balls or other soft spacers and wrap each one individually. Don’t forget that frostbite in any form can be very serious and you should have the area checked by a doctor as soon as possible.
Winter is cold, which means we need to look out for our foot health even more than usual. Protect your feet properly with insulating socks, toe warmers, and proper footwear. Learn to recognize when your feet feel cold and how serious it is. When in doubt, maybe just stay inside by the fire and curl up with a nice cup of hot chocolate. Besides, the best way to keep your feet warm is to avoid the cold altogether.