Tips for Healthy Winter Feet

Most people get concerned about the health and appearance of their feet during the summer months. But by the time winter rolls around, feet are all but forgotten, shoved back into boots and heavy sneakers.

James McGuire and Howard Palamarchuk, podiatrists at Temple University's School of Podiatric Medicine, say it's just as important, if not more so, to be vigilant about foot care during colder months, when falling temperatures, drier air, ice and snow and closed-toe shoes can contribute to foot problems. They offer five tips to keep you on your feet this winter.

Invest in some good shoes

“Cough up the extra cash to buy some decent winter shoes,” McGuire said. “Trying to put thick socks into thin summer sneakers isn’t the way to go.” He said a good winter shoe should be waterproof, have enough room to fit two pairs of socks to insulate feet and prevent moisture buildup, and have a gripping sole to prevent slips and falls. Don't want to sacrifice fashion for function? Palamarchuk recommends overshoes that can be slipped on over dress shoes as a way of keeping feet dry and warm and improving traction.

And socks, too

McGuire said one pair should be a light synthetic ‘wick’ sock, to transfer moisture to a thicker wool outer sock, where it is absorbed and evaporated to the outside. “Cotton socks absorb moisture and make for a soggy environment, which ultimately makes the feet cold and wet and sets them up for frostbite,” he said.

Keep feet pretty

Just because you can't see your feet doesn't mean their appearance should fall by the wayside. Both doctors recommend keeping toenails trimmed to avoid ingrown toenails, and to keep slathering on the lotion. “Feet tend to dry out in the winter, which can cause cracks and peeling,” Palamarchuk said. He recommends using hypoallergenic lotion at least once a day to prevent irritation or infection from dry skin.

Walk softly

Cold weather leads to slippery surfaces and cracks in the sidewalk, and both McGuire and Palamarchuk recommend keeping an eye on the ground while walking. "Clear pavement can be covered in ice you may not be able to see,” Palamarchuk said. “You need to pay attention, because a good shoe alone won’t be able to protect you.” Rushing to get inside from the cold isn’t the best idea either. "Don't make sudden moves on slippery surfaces,” McGuire added. “Even if you don't fall, you could pull or tear something that will take several days to heal.”

Don't get cold feet

Staying out in the cold too long can lead to numbness and pain in the lower extremities, which could mean the beginnings of frostbite. "Warm towels and water should be used to warm the affected area at the first sign of numbness,” McGuire said. Both he and Palamarchuk say to then see a doctor immediately to be sure there's no tissue damage.

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