Foot Conditions A-Z
Typically, cold feet are the result of exposure to cold air; however, they can also be a symptom of an underlying medical condition.
Whenever the body temperature starts to dip below its normal range, the body redirects the blood supply to critical organs (the brain, the lungs, the heart, and others) to keep them warm. At the same time, blood is redirected away from the extremities--the hands and the feet. This is why a person first feels the effects of coldness in the fingers and toes.
Prevention and Treatment
The key to keeping your feet warm in cold weather is to keep your entire body warm.
- Dress in layers. Layers insulate your body, helping you retain your “natural” heat and they can be removed as needed if you become too warm.
- Wear a hat, preferably one that covers your ears, because body heat escapes through the head.
- Wear good, insulating gloves to keep your hands warm and dry.
- If you get wet, your body loses heat more rapidly; stay as dry as possible.
- If you are in snow, wear an outer layer of water-resistant clothing and wear footwear with water-resistant soles and uppers.
- Choose shoes or boots that provide insulation and protection, such as those made from leather and synthetic materials.
- Wear padded socks made from insulating materials. These can be blends of wool and hollow core man-made fibers or blends of wool and man-made fibers.
- Use an insert or orthotic that can provide space for the feet to expand and spread, thus promoting good blood flow to help the feet stay warm.
- To ensure your feet are optimally protected, IPFH suggests you wear only properly selected and fitted, as part of an integrated approach, padded socks with shoes with non-slip outsoles and any inserts or orthotics prescribed or recommended by a doctor or foot health professional. Peer-reviewed, published studies have shown that wearing clinically tested padded socks can help protect against injuries to the skin/soft tissue of the foot.
Several medical conditions can cause cold hands and feet. Peripheral neuropathy, which mainly affects people with diabetes, can produce a variety of symptoms including tingling, numbness, weakness, or a burning sensation. Peripheral vascular disease, also known as peripheral arterial disease (PAD), is associated with heart disease; it’s caused by diminished circulation in the lower body due to high blood pressure or plaque accumulation. Also linked to cold feet is Tarsal tunnel syndrome, a nerve disorder caused by compression of the tibial nerve as it passes through the ankle. Still another cause of cold feet is Reynaud's Phenomenon, in which cold temperatures or emotional extremes can cause closure of the peripheral blood vessels, blocking blood flow to the extremeties.
Other possible causes of cold feet that occur less frequently include hormonal abnormalities, autoimmune disorders and certain types of drugs. These include beta blockers for high blood pressure, ergotamine for migraine headaches, and cold medications that contain pseudoephedrine.
If you suspect that cold feet are caused by anything other than cold weather, or if you have cold feet for more than a few days, see your doctor. Conditions that may signal a problem include cold feet while in a warm place, after exercising, or in any other situation where there is no apparent reason. Always talk to your doctor if you have soreness, pain, redness, swelling or other indications of problems in any area of your feet that persist for more than a few days.