With winter well and truly here, we find ourselves bidding farewell to sandals and embracing cosy merino socks. However, for podiatrists like us, the arrival of winter also means an increase in patients seeking help for specific foot problems that arise due to the colder temperatures. To help, here are our valuable podiatry insights into the top five winter-specific foot problems we often encounter, along with practical tips to keep your feet safe and protected.
The first condition we tend to see is called “Raynaud’s phenomenon” or syndrome. Raynaud’s affects both the feet and hands, and it is triggered by cool temperatures. If you experience Raynaud’s, you’ll notice that certain parts of your feet, particularly the toes, turn stark white, resulting in patchy discolouration. Other areas may turn red or blue or purple, and you may also feel extreme coldness and numbness in your feet.
Raynaud’s occurs when the blood vessels in your feet constrict, limiting blood flow. Interestingly, stress can also contribute to the onset of Raynaud’s symptoms. As normal blood flow returns, you may experience sensations of heat, tingling, throbbing, or swelling in your feet.
What can you do? The key is to keep your feet warm and dry. When your feet are warm, the blood vessels widen, promoting circulation and preventing episodes of Raynaud’s.
Dry, Cracked Skin
Did you know that the soles of your feet lack oil glands? This means that they are prone to drying out, especially in colder temperatures. Dry skin reduces sensitivity in our feet and makes us more susceptible to calluses and cracks, particularly on the heels.
What can you do? The solution is simple: moisturise daily. Regularly applying moisturiser is crucial since your feet cannot naturally keep the skin moist. You don’t need expensive skincare products; your regular moisturiser will suffice to keep your skin smooth, supple, and healthy. If you notice a significant callus build-up, consider having it reduced by your podiatrist. The same applies to any cracks that form in the heels.
Fungal Nail And Skin Infections
Fungus thrives in warm, moist, and dark environments—just like the conditions found in our enclosed winter shoes and warmer socks. Spending all day in these environments, combined with increased rainfall and foot sweating, creates the perfect breeding ground for fungal infections.
However, fungal infections don’t simply materialise; you must come into contact with fungal spores. Whether it’s at a friend’s house, your local gym, or a swimming pool, if you pick up the infection, there’s a higher chance it will spread faster than in summer when going barefoot or wearing sandals allows your feet to dry out.
What can you do? After every shower or when removing your shoes, thoroughly dry your feet. If your shoes get wet, let them dry completely before wearing them again, and ensure your feet are dry too. Wash and dry your socks thoroughly, paying attention to the spaces between your toes. Consider using sprays or powders on your feet or in your shoes to maintain a dry environment and discourage fungal growth. If you notice signs of a fungal nail infection (discoloration or patches on your toenails) or athlete’s foot (bubbles in the skin, dryness, itchiness, or redness), seek treatment from a podiatrist who can provide the appropriate antifungal care. The earlier you address a fungal infection, the easier it is to treat and eliminate.
Colder temperatures often mean thicker socks, which, combined with snug-fitting shoes, leave less room for your feet. As your toenails grow, they may press against the skin due to the restricted space, significantly increasing the risk of developing ingrown toenails.
What can you do? Keep your nails trimmed straight across the nail, avoiding cutting into the sides. If your toes feel uncomfortable and cramped in thick socks, opt for thinner socks made from warm and durable materials like merino.
Amplified Effects Of Diabetes On The Feet (Sensation And Blood Flow)
For individuals with diabetes, the impact on nerves and blood vessels gradually diminishes sensation and circulation in the feet. Colder temperatures can amplify these effects, similar to what occurs in Raynaud’s phenomenon. Consequently, it is crucial to diligently monitor your feet during this time, ensuring you don’t sustain any unnoticed cuts or wounds that could lead to infection.
What can you do? Make it a habit to check your feet daily, examining both the top and bottom. If necessary, use a mirror to inspect the bottom of your feet. Keep your feet protected and warm at all times, even indoors by wearing socks and slippers. Avoid exposing your feet to direct heat, such as open fires or hot water bottles, as decreased sensation may prevent you from feeling potential burns. Regularly moisturise your feet to maximise your sensation. Additionally, ensure you have your annual diabetic foot health check to stay informed about your foot health status and understand the specific precautions you should take.
Need Help Caring For Your Feet?
Our experienced podiatry team is here to help, and leave you feeling great on your feet. Book your appointment online here or call us on 09 523 2333