Taking care of a patient's foot problems is always rewarding. Any podiatrist will tell you that many foot conditions are seasonal. Summertime is notorious for athlete's foot; In the Spring, we see an influx of orthopedic injuries. Fall is rife with ball of the foot and heel pain. Wintertime is no different.
We see a myriad of patients in the colder weather complaining of dry, cracked skin on their feet. The ball of the foot, toes and particularly the heels (Cracked Heels). My patients tell me that their heels are cracked and painful. “They feel like paper cuts” is what I often hear.
Why Does Cold Weather Dry Out The Skin?
Dry skin that comes along with wintertime is often a terribly annoying and completely common condition. Skin is often itchy, tight and accompanied by dull, flaky and red patches. Here are a few common causes for this totally treatable condition.
1. Low humidity levels inside and out draw the moisture from your skin, leaving it dry, flaky and vulnerable. The cold, dry windy weather is one culprit for causing dry skin, but long-term use of central heating also causes dry air and dry skin during the wintertime.
2. Washing or bathing too much is another cause for dry skin. Taking a long time in a hot shower on a cool winter morning may feel great, but removes essential oils from your skin.
3. Most soaps are also culprits in contributing to dry skin. I tell my patients all the time to stick to Dove soap. Dove soap is much more gentle on your skin and will leave it supple and well hydrated. Overuse of certain over-the-counter moisturizers may also strip your skin of essential natural oils. Thus, using a moisturizer to help “hydrate” your skin can often lead to the opposite. Our office recommends Kamea G, a glycolic acid based cream that will help remove scaled skin from the soles of the feet.
Another great product for dry, cracked skin on the feet is the Adessa Gel Moisturizing Socks. These are a pair of gel lined socks that are worn overnight in conjunction with an exfoliative such as the Kamea G. The gel is impregnated with essential oils and moisturizers. Kamea G and Adessa Gel Socks can be purchased in our office.
Another common problem we encounter are patient's complaints of cold toes. If your feet have a tendency to get cold during the winter, the problem may lie in your shoes and even the socks you choose. Additionally, many other health disorders and lifestyle choices can contribute to cold feet and toes in the winter. Raynaud's disease is a stand-alone disorder or can be a part of other disorders which can cause painful, cold toes in the winter. Check your fingers and toes when exposed to cold. Does the skin blanch or turn reddish/purple? Do they become painful? Does the color take a long time to return to normal? If so, you may have Raynaud's. Other vascular disorders can also cause cold toes and feet in the winter. Smokers are also prone to cold toes in cooler weather.
Shoes and Socks
It's very important to make sure your winter shoe gear is well insulated and waterproof. Cold, wet socks in a poorly insulated shoe can lead to devastating complications such as blistering, ulceration, frostbite and worse, gangrene (Frostbite of Toes, Graphic) Sadly, we have seen this many times first-hand.
Thicker Socks Not Always Better:
Wearing a sock that is too thick in a shoe that doesn't have enough room can also cause problems. Feet that are sensitive to circulatory problems can often be compromised by wearing a thick sock in narrow shoes.
Ice Ice Baby!
We are also inundated with traumatic injuries during the winter. Slipping on the ice and twisting an ankle is super common. We commonly treat metatarsal fractures and ankle sprains galore in the winter. Wearing shoes with non-slip surfaces can help. Always keep aware of your surroundings when walking after a snowfall. Black ice can hide under the snow and cause an embarrassing and painful fall. Keep your center of gravity when walking and take it slow. Walking down stairs with ice on it can be a problem as well. (Icy Stairs)
Each season has its own turn in different potential pathologies. Winter can be particularly challenging due to the severity of problems the cold can cause. The worst thing you can do, regardless of the problem is to let it go untreated. A small problem like a painful skin fissure can lead to a severe bacterial infection. Twisting ones ankle and self-treating can lead to years of chronic pain. Undiagnosed fractures can cause chronic arthritis. Your feet take a beating and they need to be cared for like any other part of your body. Don't let foot problems go untreated. Stay warm and look for my Spring blog in April.
Dr. David Sands