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Protect Feet from Cold Weather

by Dr. Gregory Berlet

Step out safe and warm with the right winter boots.

Along with snow and ice comes the increased risk of injury from slips and falls. And for people who suffer from poor circulation, freezing temperatures also bring the dangers of frostnip and frostbite.

“Even though I’m an avid skier, I still get tired of the cold,” said Dr. Gregory C. Berlet, board-certified foot and ankle surgeon. “But while most people find cold weather unpleasant, it can be especially worrisome to my foot and ankle patients.”

Both frostnip and frostbite are a freezing of the skin and underlying tissues, most often experienced in toes and fingers. It’s a result of the body’s normal response to cold. As blood is drawn away from the extremities to warm the heart, lungs and other vital organs in the abdomen, the fingers and toes are at risk for freezing.

Frostnip is essentially a mild form of frostbite. Symptoms include white or yellow patches and temporary numbing of the fingers. Many people experienced frostnip as children while playing outside in the cold weather in wet mittens or socks. Frostnip is caused by exposure to extreme temperatures and creates a stinging feeling in the toes or fingers as they warm back up. In a healthy person, frostnip is a minor condition. However, to a person with poor circulation, frostnip can easily become the more serious frostbite.

Frostbite involves freezing of the flesh deep below the skin. Ice crystals form and damage the underlying tissue. This can cause the tissue to blister, turn black and die, resulting in loss of feeling–and in extreme cases, the complete loss of the finger or toe. A person experiencing frostbite should seek immediate medical attention.

“Now, all of this talk about frostbite and falls might make you feel like hibernating,” said Berlet. “But the fact is that you can stay active in the cold weather and keep your feet healthy, warm and frost-free. All it takes is proper planning and a little bit of insight from people who have mastered playing out in the cold – skiers.”

Ski boots are designed as a three-part system that keeps the foot and ankle warm, dry, and stable. Keeping those factors in mind is the key to choosing the right
winter footwear.

“I encourage my patients to think of their winter footwear in terms of this three-part system of a boot, a sock and an insole,” Berlet explained. “These three elements work together to keep your foot dry, warm and stable.”

Berlet recommends wearing boots that are:

Dry: men's bootsFootwear should have a water-repellant shell to keep water out of the boot because once feet get wet, it’s almost impossible to keep them warm. The best options are boots and shoes made with lightweight, breathable and water-resistant materials such as Gore-Tex.

Warm: Winter footwear should offer adequate insulation without making feet feel pinched or confined. Socks and inserts made from materials that wick moisture away from the skin will help feet stay warmer. Superfeet insoles are easy to find and can be discarded at the end of the season.

Stable: women's shoesWith the use of insoles and braces, winter footwear can offer the same support as everyday shoes. Some boots, like those made by New Balance, Dunham and Ziera offer a variety of styles and ankle heights and offer good support. Additionally, compression stockings and ankle braces like the Webly-Lite can be worn with most winter boots.

“These are just a few general recommendations,” said Berlet. “Your foot and ankle physician can help you decide the products and solutions that are best for you, and you can easily find these and other products I recommend at”

Proper footwear and inserts can help everyone make the most of the cold. With a little bit of planning–and the proper combination of sock, insole and boot–feet can stay healthy and warm all winter long, no hibernation necessary.

About the Author

Gregory C. Berlet, MD, is a board-certified, fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon in Columbus, Ohio. He and his colleagues founded to provide consumers with convenient access to reliable resources and products recommended by physicians. Dr. Berlet specializes in foot and ankle surgery, arthroscopy and sports medicine. In addition, he is Chairman of Education for the AOFAS and is co-author of the award winning paper on the STAR total ankle.
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