Does the influx of colder temperatures seem to exacerbate your foot pain? You’re not alone. For myriad reasons, the fall and winter months seem to amplify conditions which lead to common foot pain. Don’t miss these tips for what to do about it:
Skin & Nail Problems
Cold weather often times means dry weather, and this can have a direct impact on the health of your skin, especially the skin on your feet. Your body is made up of mostly water, some of which travels up through your layers of skin and evaporates off your body to help regulate your internal body temperature.
Drier, outside air actually pulls more moisture out of your epidermis, causing skin to dry out, become rough, flake off, and even crack. On your feet, dry, cracked skin can lead to painful sores, especially when socks and footwear rub against open skin. If a little dirt or other contaminant gets into the sore, it can cause an infection which produces painful inflammation and tenderness. Common toenail problems like ingrown toenails can foster an environment for infection and swelling which causes mild to severe pain. And seasonal fall allergies can also exacerbate skin conditions like eczema which in some cases cause blisters and lesions on the feet that flake off and result in severe itching and burning.
A 2016 study in the Journal of Gerontology found that 1 in 4 older adults experience chronic foot pain, largely from skin conditions like corns and calluses, as well as from fungal infections in the nails and bone deformities like bunions and claw toes. Experts recommend effective footcare regimens which help keep the skin on the feet soft, supple, and hydrated, as well as which prevent ingrown and infected toenails.
When clipping toenails, always clip straight across and not at a curve on the ends. This prevents the toenail from growing inwards towards the skin instead of away from it. Washing and drying feet nightly, and then immediately applying a hydrating lotion or cream before bed will also help slough away dead skin and contaminants, and lock in moisture to prevent your skin from drying out.
Bone & Joint Problems
The fall and winter months require you to wear more closed-toe footwear including sneakers and snow boots, which is great for keeping feet warm and preventing injury. Needing to wear closed-toe shoes and boots, however, can also lead people to cram their feet into old shoes that no longer fit or which no longer offer the support they need. Old footwear and shoes which are simply too snug (especially with those big winter socks on) can lead to painful foot problems like bunions, hammer toes, and plantar fasciitis.
Arthritis sufferers commonly experience worsened pain from joint inflammation during colder weather as well, which in many patients directly affects the feet, ankles, and knees. People specifically with rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis may find it difficult to bear weight due to stiff and painful joints, and those who don’t wear proper fitting footwear may experience unwanted pressure on vulnerable foot and ankle joints. Cold weather is often accompanied by inclement systems that bring through a wave of lower atmospheric (barometric) pressure too. Some research suggests that it’s the change in pressure namely and not the temperature which actually stresses arthritic joints and exacerbates symptoms.
As you prepare for colder weather, make sure to audit your footwear and invest in shoes or boots which will both keep your foot warm, but also allow a larger toe box to give your foot more room when you have thicker socks on. Arthritis sufferers can use foot exercises and stretches, as well as massage, topical aids, and heat therapy to help loosen stiff joints. Cold therapy, on the other hand, can temporarily address inflammation and swelling associated with arthritis or other physical foot injuries like plantar fasciitis – more information here.
Nerves and Sensation
Tingling, numbness, burning . . . all of these sensations are commonly felt in the extremities like the hands and feet when exposed to frigid temperatures. Prolonged exposure without being warmed or protected (by gloves, footwear, etc) can lead to frostbite, and for people with conditions like Raynaud’s phenomenon, the hands and feet can rapidly experience blood loss.
Why are the hands and feet (and nose and ears) on the frontlines of feeling the effects of cold weather? Turns out they contain the most thermoregulatory receptors, helping to detect temperature changes and divert blood flow away from extremities and back to the core of the body to maintain an internal temperature that keeps the heart and organs functioning correctly.
This type of cold weather nerve sensations may amplify existing neuropathy associated with conditions like diabetes and fibromyalgia too. Experts recommend that in addition to dressing appropriately for cold weather, those worried about nerve pain should try taking nightly baths in warm water and using chemical handwarmers when spending extended periods of time outdoors.