Preventing Chilblains This Winter

Preventing Chilblains This Winter


Image credit to SAPP 2019 and Medical News Today

Image credit to SAPP 2019 and Medical News Today

We’re going to be honest – when we wrote this for you, we were seeing a lot of patients that, after the first wave of COVID had ended, were getting excited to hit the slopes this winter. So we thought we’d give you some great info on preventing chilblains on the slopes and why our skiers and snowboarders are particularly vulnerable.

With our re-introduced restrictions, it doesn’t look like we’ll be able to make it up this winter. What we CAN still do is prevent chilblains – which don’t just occur on the slopes, but can develop anytime your feet are exposed to the cold (which, here in Melbourne, is often!).

Even when we’re going for a morning walk (especially if our feet get wet from the rain), the red or purple itchy patches on the feet known as chilblains have the potential to *painfully* stop us in our tracks and cause much discomfort for the days to come.

Today we’re sharing all about chilblains, why they develop, and how to protect yourself against them this winter..


First thing’s first, what are chilblains?

When our body is exposed to cold temperatures, the natural response of our blood vessels is to constrict (narrow). This helps our body to minimise the heat lost as the blood passes through these cooler areas. When we expose ourselves to heat, our blood vessels will do the opposite – they dilate (widen). When this happens rapidly, like when we jump into a hot shower to warm up quickly after feeling freezing, damage to the blood vessels can occur, leaking blood into the surrounding tissues and causing inflammation of the vessels. This is chilblains and they often occur at points of friction, like at the toes or bumps in the feet like bunions.


Chilblains can be:

  • Painful and throbbing
  • Red/purple and inflamed (especially around the toes)
  • Itchy and sensitive 

Once the swelling goes down, the skin can become dry, cracked and may become infected.


Why are skiers and snowboarders at risk of chilblains?

Those hitting the slopes are at risk of chilblains because of their predisposition to alternate very cool temperatures on the slopes with warm temperatures in warming huts or when coming home after finishing their runs. They may occur when you remove your boots and replace them, or if you get snow in your boots which cools your foot down and then quickly warms up after the ice melts. Let’s not forget that purposefully tight-fitting ski and snowboard boots that can further restrict circulation and help the blood come rushing back when they’re removed.

Outside of snowsports, chilblains can affect anyone – and children, the elderly and those with poor circulation in the extremities (hands and feet) are most often affected. There is some evidence that there is a genetic predisposition to developing chilblains, and lower body weight, hormone changes, being female, connective tissue diseases and bone marrow disorders may also increase your risk.


How do I prevent and treat chilblains?

If you develop chilblains, you can’t ‘reverse’ the effects as the damage will already have been done with the blood having leaked into the tissues. You can try using medications to relieve the itching or swelling, but unfortunately, but if you continue to move and stay physically active through the pain, you’ll also leave yourself vulnerable to further damaging the skin so the chilblains will take longer to heal. Whatever you do, avoid scratching skin affected by chilblains.


Prevention is key, so make sure you follow these steps whether you’re on the slopes or not:

  • Wear a good, warm pair of socks in your shoes, e.g. merino wool
  • Make sure your shoes are the right fit and don’t restrict your circulation more than they need to
  • Keep an extra dry pair of socks with you to change into in case your socks get wet
  • Warm cold feet up gradually, instead of going from freezing straight into a hot shower
  • Keep your feet warm when you’re at home
  • Keep your feet moisturised to keep the skin soft and supple, helping to prevent dryness and cracking if chilblains do develop
  • Be mindful of certain medications and actions like smoking that cause blood vessels to constrict
  • Keep your core warm to help keep your feet warm, too


And the next time you finally get back to the slopes, try:

  • Using boot warmers if you’re prone to getting cold feet or have suffered from chilblains in the past
  • Lacing your boots up all the way and ensure your snow pants are tucked over your boots to prevent snow from entering
  • Keeping your boots on a drying rack overnight or use boot drying inserts


And if pain starts in your feet or legs?

Come see our experienced podiatry team here at Sole Motion Podiatry. We’re a passionate team of podiatrists that love what we do – and genuinely want to see you feeling and performing at your best!


Book your appointment online by clicking here or calling us on 1300-FX-FEET

Comments are closed.