Fans of the season—and all the cozy couch time and hot beverages it brings—have been waiting for it, and winter is finally here. Of course, not everyone is so enthusiastic about the prospects of snow and colder weather. No matter where you end on that particular spectrum, one thing holds true – winter presents some unique challenges to your foot health.
Now, it can be fairly easy to neglect your lower limbs during our colder months. After all, “out of sight” is often “out of mind” (as the old saying goes). And it’s harder to get out of sight than a foot encased in thick socks and boots!
Just because it’s easy to forget about your feet doesn’t mean you should ignore them this winter. On the contrary, the season increases the risk for certain foot problems – including cracked heels and fungal toenails.
You don’t, however, have to accept it as fact that problems will develop. There are measures you can—and should—take to keep your feet healthy in the winter.
With that in mind, here are some top tips for optimal foot health this winter:
Put away your summer footwear and invest in quality winter shoes and boots. Your footwear choices play a big role in your foot health – all year long. This means you should sport models that will keep your feet warm and dry. As with shoes for any season, make sure you wear ones that are comfortable and don’t fit too tightly. Tight fit can be a particular risk since the odds are quite decent you may choose socks that are thicker than ones you’d sport in the summer. (A good rule of thumb is to always wear or bring along the socks you will be wearing with new footwear when you buy them at the store.)
Along with proper fit, winter shoes and boots need to have thick soles and adequate grip so your feet can remain stable on slippery surfaces – which is obviously important when the ground is covered in snow and ice.
Take proper measures to reduce the risk for fungal infections. Keeping feet warm during our colder months is an obvious goal for your winter footwear. Unfortunately, boots and closed-toe shoes can lead to extra sweating. In turn, this contributes to breeding toenail fungus and athlete’s foot.
The good news is there are steps you can take to lower your risk.
As a starting point, consider wearing socks made from materials like wool or bamboo (really!) for improved breathability. You generally want to avoid cotton socks this time of year. Whereas cotton is a natural fiber, it tends to absorb sweat instead of wicking the moisture away (which is what you want).
This is good practice throughout the entire year, but consider alternating your footwear during our winter months. An extra 24 hours between wear gives each pair a better opportunity to dry completely. The dryness is important because fungus needs moisture to survive.
Keeping with the theme of “reducing moisture,” pass on wearing toenail polish during the winter. Your feet are usually hidden anyhow, and your toes won’t miss the extra moisture (but any fungi will!).
Prevent and treat dry heels. Obviously, moisture can be a problem, but so too can excessive dryness. (Yes, it can be a bit of a delicate balance.)
The problem with excessively dry skin is that it can become cracked and fissured. This not only may be painful, but also creates an entryway for microorganisms into the body – which is not a situation you want to have.
The good news is that dry skin is treatable and can be prevented from happening in the first place.
With regards to prevention, you may want to rub petroleum jelly (like Vaseline) onto your heels after showering or bathing. This works because the petroleum jelly acts as a sealant – locking in the moisture so it doesn’t evaporate. Another approach that can work well is to massage a thick cream into your feet, which also stimulates circulation.
Treatment for an existing case of dry heels can include those steps, along with using a pumice stone to smooth out rough or callused skin. When doing this, start by softening the stone with water and then gently rubbing it on the heels. Be sure to keep in mind the fact your goal is not to try and debride all dry skin in a single session!
Stay active. The motivation to exercise and work out can start to fade away as temperatures drop and the days shorten, but becoming inactive can be a big mistake. Moving your body helps to generate heat and keeps a healthy blood flow going down to your feet.
When you are active in the winter it becomes especially important to warm up and stretch. Sure, this is something you should do even when exercising in the height of summer, but cold weather makes your muscles and connective tissues less limber. Take the time to warm up and use dynamic stretches before you head out for a winter run, play ice hockey, or participate in any of your favorite wintertime activities. Doing so improves performance, keeps your body warm, and reduces your risk of injuries.
Come see us if you need professional foot care! No matter if you observe the early signs of fungal toenails, have a difficult case of cracked heels, or need treatment for a foot or ankle injury this winter, contact Sunshein Podiatry Associates.
Our team provides comprehensive foot and ankle care, so contact us today! Call our Centerville office at (937) 435-7477 or contact us online for more information right now.