When it comes to self-care, our feet tend to get neglected a lot. Our feet are actually stuffed in shoes, exposed to varying environmental conditions and sometimes given the least importance.
Many health conditions can arise which may result in a visit to the podiatrist. One such condition is the trench foot.
What is Trench Foot?
It is a foot condition caused due to the prolonged exposure of the feet to cold, wet and unsanitary conditions. The medical term for this condition is called Non Freezing cold Injury (NCFI). It is often called Immersion Foot.
Due to this prolonged exposure, the blood vessels, muscles, and nerves of the feet progressively get damaged and the foot starts swelling in size, emitting a bad odor and becomes discolored. Immediate treatment is needed to prevent gangrene development and amputation of the foot.
Trench Foot History
The trench foot was noted as a health condition first in the winter of 1914-15. During the First World War, the soldiers of the British army had to stand in waterlogged trenches for long hours. The soldiers soon started complaining of a numb sensation in their feet. The foot tissues would break off, blisters formed, bleeding occurred and it would lead to extreme pain for them. Since they didn’t know what it was at that time, many of the soldiers develop gangrene. As infection set in, portions of their feet had to be amputated.
Trench Foot Causes
The main cause of trench foot is prolonged exposure to damp and cold conditions or the environment. This is made worse by the lack of hygiene which accelerates the condition.
It is important to note that trench foot can be caused due to exposure to any damp condition. Any wet environment, even those indoors, can affect the feet.
Trench foot is common not only among soldiers, but also among athletes, hikers, builders, and campers and those in professions where they have to stand on their feet for long hours.
Development of the Condition
This condition can affect only toes, heels or the entire foot. Trench foot, unfortunately, develops really fast. Hence it becomes very important to be aware of the symptoms, the preventive measures and to get medical assistance as soon as possible in order to save the foot.
On prolonged exposure to the cold, the blood vessels of the foot constrict to keep the foot warm. When this happens, the blood flow to the muscles and nerves of the foot decreases. This reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients to the foot. As the nerves and tissues are deprived of the oxygen and essential nutrients, they get damaged. This damage results in the foot being swollen, numb and blotchy.
If the damage is not treated, the nerves and tissues of the foot continue to deteriorate. This causes further damage by increasing swelling and resulting in prickly sensations. Blisters and foot ulcers develop, bleeding happens under the surface of the skin and the skin starts peeling and falling off.
As the symptoms increase in severity, the tissues become a darkish hue of blue or green and sometimes even black in color. The foot starts emitting a decaying odor. This is a sign that the tissues are starting to die. If the infections are not treated immediately, gangrene sets in. This mostly results in a portion of the foot or sometimes the whole foot getting amputated.
Trench Foot Symptoms
As mentioned above, the symptoms can be shown only on the toes, the heels or the entire foot.
- The feet start feeling cold and swell to about twice or thrice their normal size.
- The color of the foot starts to change. Sometimes there may be red blotches. Sometimes they may seem to have a bluish tinge. They could even have grey or white patches.
- The foot feels numb for long periods.
- This can alternate with the foot feeling really heavy and it may hurt to lift the feet, position them or even stand on them.
- There will be prickly sensations resembling pins and needles in the feet.
- The feet will hurt painfully as the symptoms progressively become worse.
- Skin becomes raw and starts to tear. Skin starts peeling and falling off.
- Bleeding blisters, foot ulcers, and oozing foot sores can also occur.
- If the open wounds are not treated, infections can occur.
- Certain decaying portions of skin tissue on the foot turn a dark color, maybe even black.
- Bad foot odor due to decaying tissue.
Trench Foot Prevention
This section is vital for those who stand long hours on their feet or work in conditions that expose them to cold temperature. There are certain preventive measures one can take to avoid the development of trench foot. They are:
- Practice foot hygiene. Keep your feet clean and dry. Wash and dry feet daily.
- Allow the feet to breathe. Wear proper shoes which are not too tight or too loose. Try wearing open-toed shoes whenever possible.
- Change socks daily. If you work in damp conditions or have a lifestyle which involves wearing closed shoes for a long time, then it is advisable to keep changing socks more than once a day.
- Always wear dry footwear and use sock liners to draw moisture away.
- Never wear damp footwear. Footwear that has been used in rain or in muddy conditions must not be worn again unless they have been cleaned and dried completely.
- Apply talcum powder or antifungal powder on the feet. This keeps them clean and dry, especially if your feet sweat profusely.
- If foot perspiration is excessive, then approach the doctor for drying agents such as aluminum chloride which will help.
- Try not to be in damp environments. If that is not possible, take frequent breaks.
Trench Foot Treatment
It is always advisable to stick to the points above even if trench foot has already developed. The above points can stop the development of gangrene mostly and must be followed as part of treatment as well.
- Always ensure that the feet are clean and dry thoroughly.
- Socks must be changed daily and shoes must be clean and dry.
- Soak feet in warm water for about five minutes. Apply warm packs on the affected areas.
- Do not wear socks while sleeping. Let the air circulate around your feet.
- Get medical assistance as soon as possible. Do not delay treatment especially if there are open sores as this can cause infection and you may need antibiotics immediately.
- Keep moving your feet to get your blood flowing. Rotate your ankles, stand on raised toes or use your heels. This also improves circulation.
- Practice good diet as nutrition is important to repair affected tissues.
Trench foot develops because of exposure to the cold and damp surroundings. As we cannot change environments, it is important to practice good foot hygiene and not delay treatment is the need arises. This will ensure that our feet stay healthy and continue supporting us throughout.
Trench Foot Pictures