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With its cold weather and heavy snow, winter can be particularly hard on our bodies. More specifically, between icy sidewalks and bulky snow boots, our feet and ankles are especially at risk.

AtNorthern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists,  we see a noticeable increase in ankle injuries during the winter months. From sprains to fractures, these injuries can range from mild discomfort to serious pain and even require surgery.

That's why we've compiled a list of the top 7 winter ankle injuries and how to prevent them so you can enjoy the winter season without worrying about your ankles.

1. Ankle Sprains

Ankle sprains are one of the most common winter injuries, occur when the ankle ligaments are overstretched or torn and if not treated properly, they can cause significant discomfort and mobility issues. There are two kinds of ankle sprains: eversion ankle sprains, where the ankle rolls out, and inversion ankle sprains, where the ankle rolls in. If you've ever had a sprained ankle, it was likely an inversion sprain.

To prevent an ankle sprain or other ankle injury, it's important to wear the right shoes for winter conditions, like boots or sneakers with good support and traction. Test surfaces before walking to make sure they're not slippery, take shorter and slower steps, and immobilize the ankle as soon as possible if you do fall.

2. Stress Fractures

Stress fractures are also very common in the winter, typically as the result of a slip or fall. These types of fractures can be extremely painful, often causing significant swelling that makes it difficult (if not impossible) to stand or walk. If left untreated, a stress fracture can become a true fracture.

If you suspect a stress fracture, the best thing to do is stop what you're doing, rest your foot, and contact your podiatrist. It's also important to wear footwear with good arch support and shock absorption, as well as properly fitted snow boots. If you're an athlete, it's also important to take the occasional rest day to avoid putting too much stress on your feet and ankles.

3. Plantar Fasciitis

No matter the time of year, a common culprit of heel pain and foot pain is plantar fasciitis. This overuse injury affects the plantar fascia, which is a thick band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes. When you have plantar fasciitis, this band becomes inflamed and irritated, causing pain when you walk or stand.

Though it's a year-round concern, plantar fasciitis pain can worsen in the winter. When the temperature drops, the tissues in your body often contract and pull on nerve endings, causing discomfort. In other words, while the risk of developing plantar fasciitis isn't necessarily increased in the winter, the pain can be more severe.

To prevent plantar fasciitis, it's important to wear shoes with good arch support and cushioning. Or, you can talk to your podiatrist about getting custom orthotics. If you spend much of the day on your feet, it's also important to rest when you can. Performing daily stretches and exercises can also help reduce the risk of developing plantar fasciitis.

4. Achilles Tendonitis

Like plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis is a common overuse injury, and moreover, a concern no matter the season. The Achilles tendon connects the calf muscle to the heel bone, and when overstressed, it can become swollen and inflamed. Like other ankle or foot injuries, Achilles tendonitis can be very painful and cause difficulty when walking or standing.

As previously mentioned, cold weather can cause tissues in the body to tighten. Because this tissue is less elastic, there's a higher risk of it tearing, and the Achilles tendon is not immune to this. Luckily, warming up these tissues can help prevent injury. If you're especially active in the winter, make sure to do a few minutes of light exercise before engaging in more strenuous physical activity.

As always, if you feel any pain in your heel or ankle, don't hesitate to reach out to us!

5. Arthritis Flare-Ups

If you suffer from arthritis, a condition marked by joint inflammation and stiffness, you likely already know that the winter can trigger arthritis flare-ups and severe pain. Researchers haven't reached a consensus on whether temperature, humidity, or air pressure are to blame, but regardless, we know that environmental factors can increase arthritis pain and stiffness in the winter months.

At Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists, we offer a number of treatments for foot and ankle arthritis, from cortisone injections to cold laser treatment. However, for short-term pain relief and prevention, there are steps you can take at home, too! For instance, it's important to keep your feet warm, which you can do by wearing thick socks, warm shoes, and using heated insoles. If you experience a flare-up, you can also relax in a nice, hot bath to help relieve pain.

6. Athlete's Foot

Athlete's foot is an itchy, red rash caused by a fungus that often occurs in damp environments like locker rooms and showers. In other words, we typically think of this as a condition that only affects athletes, especially in the summer.

Unfortunately, athlete's foot is also common in the winter months. Wearing heavy socks or layering socks that don't breathe can cause your feet to become sweaty and moist. Wearing shoes that aren't waterproof and let in melting snow can also cause issues. This creates an environment where fungus can thrive, leading to an infection.

To prevent athlete's foot, it's important to wear breathable socks and waterproof shoes that keep your feet dry. If you notice any signs of infection, such as itchiness or redness, schedule an appointment with our experts to get relief.

7. Frostbite

Finally, frostbite is a condition caused by severe cold and lack of circulation. At any temperature below 32℉, frostbite can become a risk if proper precautions are not taken. Frostbite develops in several stages, starting with 'frostnip,' which doesn't cause lasting issues, to deep frostbite, which can cause permanent muscle and tissue damage.

Frostbite is most likely to affect skin that is exposed to the elements, making going out into the snow without any shoes extremely dangerous—but you probably already knew that! However, it's worth keeping in mind that frostbite can affect covered skin, as well. In other words, your normal pair of tennis shoes likely won't cut it.

To protect your feet when the weather dips below freezing, there are a couple of steps you can take. First, wear two layers of socks: a base layer made of moisture-wicking fabric to keep your feet dry and a second layer of wool socks to keep warm. Then, wear shoes that are waterproof, insulate, and cover your ankles. Most importantly, make sure that nothing feels tight! Not only is it uncomfortable, but it can actually increase your risk of frostbite, due to restricting your circulation.

How We Can Help

At Northern Illinois Foot & Ankle Specialists, our patient's foot and ankle health is our top priority. We're here to help you take the necessary steps to keep your feet healthy this winter, from treatments for a severe foot or ankle injury to advice for preventing minor injuries or relieving pain. Our experts are dedicated to giving you the care and attention you need, all year long.

If you suffer a foot or ankle injury this winter, don't hesitate to visit us. With our easy-to-use online scheduling tool, you can book an appointment any time of day or night. Or, you can call us at (847)-639-5800 during normal business hours to speak with a member of our team. We look forward to helping you stay healthy this winter!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to wear the same shoes and socks I use in the summer during the winter?

No, it is important to switch to appropriate footwear for colder temperatures. This includes wearing waterproof and insulated shoes, as well as layering moisture-wicking socks with wool socks for added warmth and protection against frostbite.

How often should I check my feet during the winter months?

It is recommended that you check your feet daily for any signs of irritation, infection, or injury to catch and address issues early on. This is especially important for those with diabetes or poor circulation.

Is exercising outdoors in cold weather safe for my feet?

Yes, exercising in cold weather can be safe as long as proper precautions are taken. This includes warming up properly and wearing appropriate footwear to prevent injury or strain on the feet. It is also important to check the weather conditions and dress accordingly to prevent issues like frostbite. If you experience any discomfort or pain in your feet while exercising, it is best to stop and seek medical attention if necessary.

Are there any other conditions that can affect the feet in winter weather?

Yes, other conditions such as chilblains (painful skin inflammation caused by cold and dampness), pernio (cold-induced rash), and even blisters can occur in cold weather. Wearing appropriate footwear and seeking medical attention for any discomfort or issues can help prevent these conditions.