*Winter is here* and if you’re feeling some tingling, burning, numbness or other odd sensations in your feet that have left you wondering whether your circulation is getting worse – or if the cooler temperatures could be having an effect – then you’re spot on. The cold weather can and does affect our circulation, although temporarily, and today we’re giving you the low down on exactly what happens, why it produces the tingly and odd feelings, and what you can do to prevent it this winter.
We thought we’d kick this off with a little anatomy & physiology. Your blood vessels circulate blood from the heart where it’s pumped to the rest of your body – including your feet and legs. As your feet are the furthest distance away from the heart, there’s more potential for adversity – whether that’s damage to the vessels themselves, susceptibility to temperature changes, or something else.
When we’re hot, our blood vessels relax and widen. This way, heat can escape more readily to bring us back down to an ideal temperature. When we’re cold, particularly in our feet and hands, the opposite happens. Our blood vessels constrict and narrow to preserve heat – and as a result, our blood flow can be compromised. The severity of this restriction can vary greatly – from a barely noticeable restriction, to one that leaves our feet feeling numb, tingly, burning, like pins and needles.
At this more extreme end of the spectrum, we may start to suffer from specific problems, including:
Raynaud’s is triggered by cold temperatures at the feet and hands, where the narrowing of the blood vessels on the feet results in the toes or patches on the feet turning stark white (most common), red or blue/purple. Your feet will also likely feel cold and numb. As you warm your feet, the vessels dilate and the blood flow rate increases, your feet may feet hot, tingly, throbbing or swollen.
Keeping your feet warm and dry is #1. When your feet are warm, your blood vessels dilate (widen), promoting circulation and hence helping to prevent episodes of Raynaud’s.
Chilblains are the painful inflammation of small blood vessels in your skin, and most often the feet, that occur from repeated exposure to the cold. Also known as pernio, chilblains can cause itching, red or purple patches, a burning sensation on your skin, swelling and blistering on your hands and feet.
Prevent repeated exposure to the cold by keeping your feet rugged up! Wear warm socks and enclosed or waterproof shoes. Change out of wet shoes and socks as quickly as possible. Prepare for winter sports with the right protection. Keeping your body moving and active to promote blood flow when you feel yourself cooling down, if possible.
Diabetes affects both the sensation (feeling) and circulation (blood flow in the feet) as a result of damage to the blood vessels and nerves. The narrowing of the blood vessels as a result of the cooler weather can worsen effects of diabetes – which makes it more difficult for those with diabetes to maintain good foot health, repair any cuts and wounds or fight infection.
Check your feet every day – both the top and bottom, holding the bottom of your feet up to a mirror if you can’t turn the foot to see the bottom. Protect your feet and keep them warm at all times – including wearing socks and slippers inside the house. Avoid exposing your feet to direct heat – like open fires or directly onto hot water bottles, in case your sensation has diminished and you’re unable to feel an upcoming burn. Keep your feet moisturised to promote as much feeling at the feet as possible. Make sure you’ve had your annual diabetic foot health check so you’re completely aware of your foot health status and the specific precautions you should be taking.
Did you know that the soles of your feet don’t have oil glands? Yep! This means that, firstly, we don’t go slipping around the floor (thankfully!), and secondly, our feet are prone to drying out when combined with the cooler temperatures. When the skin is dry, the sensation at our feet decreases and we are more prone to developing callus and having that hard, dry skin crack – especially at the heels.
This one is simple: moisturise daily. That’s it! As you have no oil glands to keep the skin moist, you’re substituting with regular (daily) moisturiser use. You don’t need any fancy expensive moisturiser from leading skincare brands, either. Use your regular moisturiser to keep your skin smooth, supple and healthy. If you notice large areas of callus building up (often as a result of high pressure from your foot biomechanics), have it reduced by your podiatrist. Same with any cracks that form.
When the supply of oxygen in your blood to your muscles, tendons and tissues around the joints is diminished then your joints can feel stiffer, less mobile and achier! You don’t have to suffer from other conditions like arthritis, either. Many people report stiffer, achier joints in the winter – especially after staying outside in the cold for prolonged periods of time!
Maintain your regular exercise routine in the winter to promote good blood flow and circulation, but don’t forget to wear the right layers during and immediately after exercise to maintain your core temperature.
Prevention (where possible) is always the best treatment, and in this case, it’s as simple as keeping your feet warm, dry and incorrectly sized shoes that don’t further restrict the circulation in your feet – but also maintaining your core temperature by wearing the right amount of layers, a hat, earmuffs and whatever else you need to maintain a good core temperature!
If you’re concerned about any odd feelings or problems with your feet, we’d love to help. We’re a passionate team of podiatrists that love what we do – and genuinely want to see you feeling and performing at your best!