How to Warm Kids’ Feet Safely After Winter Play: Do’s and Don’ts

How to Warm Kids’ Feet Safely After Winter Play: Do’s and Don’ts

It’s a familiar scenario: Your child returns home after outdoor winter play and complains that their feet are cold and painful—or worse, cold and numb. What to do?

IPFH Scientific Advisory Board member Dr. Rachel Rader offers these tips:

Do remove your child’s wet clothing, pat the affected foot dry (don’t rub). If  you see red or white patches on the skin, your child most likely has superficial frostbite (also known as “frostnip”), which normally is temporary and resolves during or shortly after rewarming. Green, blue or black skin indicates a deeper injury to the skin and should be brought immediately to a doctor’s attention.

Do rewarm feet slowly. Use warming blankets, and cover your child’s feet with layers of socks to keep them warm. 

Don’t don’t rub or massage the feet. This may cause more damage to skin/tissue.

Don’t pour hot water on the feet or use any type of direct heat, such as heating pads, radiators, stoves or fires.

Do keep your child still. Trying to restore circulation by jumping up and down or even wiggling the  toes may be “too much, too quickly” and can cause injury to the tissue. Have your child sit for 10-15 minutes as feet are warming,  then check to see if symptoms are improving.

Do check a half hour after starting rewarming and reassess every half hour thereafter. If the skin doesn’t look as though it’s improving within an hour, and continuing to improve after that, take your child to the emergency room.

Do prevent further or future injury by ensuring that your child wears layers, protective gear as needed and waterproof shoes or boots when outdoors, especially when temperatures are below freezing. Since waterproof footwear is often not breathable, your child should also wear padded socks made of acrylic blends that wick moisture away from the feet. Dampness makes feet colder.

“Many parents are concerned about the cost of children’s shoes and are reluctant to pay top dollar for new winter shoes,” Dr. Rader acknowledges. “That said, summer shoes or tennis shoes are not appropriate for outdoor play in the winter. Consider investing in all-terrain shoes, which can be worn year-round.”

Read more about cold feet here.

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