Foot and Ankle Surgeons Offer Winter Weather Safety Tips
Brrrr! Winter is coming, and so is chilly weather. It’s so important for older adults to take precautions to avoid cold-related illness and injury. Maybe you put on a warm coat and a hat—but what about your feet? Seniors are at higher risk of falling, and are more prone to certain health condition that makes their feet more vulnerable.
The American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS) reminds seniors and everyone to protect themselves—right down to their tippy toes. They shared this information:
Many injuries in the lower extremities occur due to cold weather-related incidents, from ankle sprains to frostbite to broken toes. However, by taking proper preventive measures, people can decrease their chance of incurring a foot or ankle problem during the colder months. “During the winter months, patients should take extra precaution to keep their feet warm and dry when navigating frigid temps, especially patients who have existing health conditions,” said Massachusetts-based foot and ankle surgeon and ACFAS Fellow Member Greg Catalano, DPM, FACFAS.
Injury prevention is especially important for those who have poor circulation, nerve damage caused by neuropathy, or Raynaud’s phenomenon, which is an extreme sensitivity to coldness.
ACFAS recently offered three critical and easy-to-follow tips that can mean all the difference between comfort and pain in your feet during the winter.
1. Wear the right shoes. Said Dr. Catalano, “Whether caused by wearing high heels on icy surfaces or just by sheer accident, falls are one of the most common causes of weather-related injuries. Wintertime falls often result in an ankle sprain, or worse, a broken bone in the foot, ankle, heel or toe. I encourage patients to wear low-heeled shoes or boots with a traction sole to help prevent slipping.”
Equally important, wearing warm shoes or boots can protect a person’s feet in frigid temps. Says Dr. Catalano, “Wearing water-resistant, insulated footwear serves as a barrier between the feet and outside elements; this is particularly important for patients with neuropathy or Raynaud’s phenomenon. Both conditions block normal blood flow in the feet and place a person at a greater risk of developing additional problems. In some cases, people can incur chilblains, which are itchy, tender, red patches that emerge in response to cold air, or in extreme cases, frostbite.”
Remember, the thicker the insulation, the greater the protection is between a person’s feet and the adverse effects caused by cold weather.
2. Keep your feet dry. Damp feet can cause cold feet and can be just as harmful. Wearing moisture-wicking socks helps prevent internal wetness caused by sweat, while water-resistant footwear will ward off external weather elements that can cause dampness. “I encourage my patients to wear appropriate socks as a standard practice during the winter months to guard their feet in both foreseen and unexpected inclement weather conditions,” said Dr. Catalano.
For some, inserting foot warmers in their shoes serves as an extra layer of protection. But before doing so, it is best to consult with a foot and ankle surgeon. If worn incorrectly, foot warmers can burn the skin and cause severe harm for those with nerve damage.
3. Get the right help. With all that can happen to the feet and ankles during the winter months, it is best to know what to do when faced with a condition or injury brought on by cold weather. Said Dr. Catalano, “In the case of a suspected fracture or sprain caused by a fall, see a foot and ankle surgeon or visit the emergency room as soon as possible for prompt diagnosis and treatment. If medical care is unavailable, for temporary relief of symptoms, try the RICE principle: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.” He cautioned, “But remember, delaying treatment can result in long-term complications.”
If feet are exposed to cold and dampness for a prolonged period, soak them in warm water, avoiding hot water or direct heat. Soaking them in warm water will allow the feet to regain their normal temperature gradually.
Source: The American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, adapted by IlluminAge.