In the Pacific Northwest, winter arrives in many forms, whether on a snowcapped mountain top, or a misty overcast. No matter the forecast, though, two healthy feet are the first step forward for a range of cold-weather activities, from hitting the slopes, to building a snowman, to a rainy-day hike. With seven providers on staff, Foot & Ankle Surgical Associates (FASA) helps patients to be winter-weather ready, working individually with each patient to deliver both surgical and non-invasive treatment options.
As the weather grows colder and days grow shorter, proper foot maintenance and care during winter weather is key to healthy feet year-round. And Dr. Terrence Hess, owner and a FASA provider, says that after decades of treating patients, he has noticed that during the winter season, patients may be more likely to experience certain foot conditions, especially irritation related to winter footwear. “I kind of have an anticipated set of patients that will start showing up at certain times of the year,” explains Hess. “For example, you’re going to show up because you’re now wearing regular shoes because it’s colder out. And whatever foot orthology you could have, it’s going to get sorer because you’re stuffing it into a shoe, compared to in the summer when you’re wearing your flip flops, sandals or wedges.”
When wearing cold-weather shoes, Hess says a higher moisture content and temperature within the shoe can create a breeding ground for fungal infections of the foot. In addition, a shoe can create pressure points across the foot, leading to irritated skin or sores. For patients with diabetes, it is especially important to regularly check the foot for pressure points and to schedule regular foot care appointments with a healthcare provider.
To help protect the foot and to help maintain the foot’s temperature, Hess recommends patients wear socks to accompany any kind of winter footwear. To help wick away excess moisture, socks comprised of a cotton blend work best. For calluses, or dry, cracked skin that develops around the foot, Hess says properly fitting footwear and topical exfoliation is the most effective courses of prevention and treatment. In addition to adding moisture to the foot, exfoliation can help to slough off any dead skin that may accumulate. An over the counter treatment, ammonium lactate cream is ideal for foot exfoliation and can help to keep the foot skin naturally soft.
When enjoying outdoor activities during wintertime, it is important to avoid cold damage to the foot and toes. To prevent cold-weather conditions like frostbite, Hess recommends keeping the foot warm and dry by wearing socks and properly maintaining footwear that is appropriate for the activity. “Most of us tend to be pretty active,” says Hess. “I think this winter, people are going to go out and do things like hiking, skiing, out and about outdoors. So, using proper shoe wear. Make sure it’s warm enough, clean enough and dry enough, those things for fun playtime outdoors.”
But the risk of cold damage doesn’t end when a person goes inside for the day. Proper and gradual rewarming of the foot after cold-weather exposure can help to reduce and prevent damage to tissues inside the foot. “You want a cold, slow rewarming,” says Hess. “The temptation is to throw the feet in hot water, well, it’s not good for your foot. All the blood vessels are constricted, it can’t protect itself from the heat. So literally, their blood vessels shut down. And so hot water that would normally damage vessels now destroys them. So slow, rewarming is more important.”
Options for slow rewarming include bundling the feet with a warm water bottle and a blanket, sitting near a heating vent with feet under a blanket, or through wearing a pair of warm socks.
Concerned with foot health during winter and throughout the year, the podiatry and wellness team at FASA provide not only surgical intervention but also nonsurgical treatment options, preventative care and maintenance for chronic conditions can affect the foot, like diabetes. Through this care, FASA providers and staff understand the importance of patients utilizing the full extent of their insurance benefits.
Nearing the end of the year, many patients have already met their annual insurance deductible, meaning they can save money by using potentially costly services before insurance benefits expire at the year’s end. From laser treatments to custom orthotics, to physical therapy, there are many different services available under FASA’s umbrella of care, each helping the patient to put their best foot forward.
To learn more about foot maintenance, FASA services or to schedule an appointment, visit the Foot & Ankle Surgical Associates website.