By: Dr. Timothy Henke
Advanced Foot & Ankle of Wisconsin, LLC
Winter is a season for skiing, sledding, festive holidays and other activities and family fun, both outdoors and in. With the cold weather now upon us, it is important to take extra care to protect our feet while trudging through the snow or resting at home. While wearing a sturdy pair of insulated boots and warm socks is helpful, Dr. Timothy Henke, a surgical podiatrist with Advanced Foot & Ankle of Wisconsin and friend of Stan’s and New Balance Milwaukee, answered some of our questions to remind everyone that there are other precautions we should take to guard ourselves against cold feet or more serious illnesses and injuries.
Q: What are some of the foot health threats people need to be conscious of going into colder, winter months?
The biggest concern with the colder months is injury due to cold, frostbite. Exposed skin is most vulnerable – but toes are very susceptible, too, even in boots. Depending on the temperature and conditions, frostbite can set in as little as ten minutes at temperatures and wind chills below zero.
Another condition is something called Raynaud’s disease or phenomenon. In this case, when exposed to cold, fingers or toes can become painful very quickly and change colors from white to blue and finally red. This is caused by spasm of the blood vessels and can happen very quickly. In some severe cases, this can be caused by something as simple as touching cold items, like a glass of ice water. For most, this is worse in winter months. Aside from trying to avoid cold, this is something that can be treated by a doctor.
Q: What are signs that someone might have a foot problem resulting from cold weather’s effects?
Initially, with the first stages of frostbite, skin becomes cold and pale or red. This should resolve fairly quickly with gradual rewarming and only affects the outer layer of the skin. As frostbite becomes more severe, the redness may remain much longer and feet can begin to feel warm – even though you are outside in the cold. This is a big warning sign to get inside. Rewarming at this stage can cause burning, numbness or tingling, and the skin will appear mottled. As frostbite gets worse, the entire limb can become numb and the muscles can stop working. Blisters may form at 24-48 hours, and there may be severe damage to deeper tissues. If any of these symptoms appear or there is any doubt of frostbite, it is important to see a doctor right away.
Q: What are some basic precautions someone can take to protect their feet in the winter?
The best precaution that one can take is choosing proper footwear. Investing in a good pair of winter or insulated boots is a good choice for any outdoor activities. We’ve all heard that it’s important to bring blankets, shovels, etc. with us on winter trips in case of emergencies – it’s also a good idea to have those boots with you whenever you get in the car, even if it’s a short trip. If you happen to get stranded or need to walk for help, those boots will protect your feet much better than your everyday shoes.
Q: What should someone look for in footwear and foot care products to ensure their feet are protected in the winter?
Boots, like any shoe, should fit properly. They should not be too loose, but they should also not be too tight. If they are too tight, they can restrict circulation to the feet, and there is no air space to trap heat around the foot – which means the foot can get colder faster. A little wiggle room for the toes is good.
For people who spend long lengths of time in the outdoors and snow, a waterproof boot may be useful, too. Boots with Gore-tex, for example, can help keep water and melted snow from soaking the boot, which helps protect the foot and keep it dry.
Dr. Henke treats patients suffering from foot conditions, including those resulting from cold weather, at Advanced Foot and Ankle of Wisconsin’s Brookfield, Burlington and Milwaukee clinics on 27th Street and Layton Avenue. Contact him or one of his associates if you are concerned you might be experiencing one of the conditions he mentioned or another foot-based illness or injury. Stop by any of Stan’s three locations to try on a pair of boots to keep your feet healthy and warm this winter!