Trench foot is a problem we don’t see much these days, but during World War I it was a big concern. The American and British soldiers who spent a great deal of time in the trenches suffered from wet, cold feet over long periods of time. These negative environmental conditions were exacerbated by the fact that the soldiers had to keep their boots on for extended time periods. Additionally, they often had to stand still in one place for great lengths of time.
The combination of inactivity, constant dampness, cold and pressure from footwear cause numbness, swelling and pain. These symptoms were worsened even further by the fact that the soldiers generally had a poor diet and lacked adequate rest. As a result, many soldiers suffered severe damage to their feet. Some even had to have their feet amputated; however, just a few simple preventative steps helped resolve these issues.
Steps were taken to provide soldiers with properly fitted footwear, a good supply of dry socks and supplies to keep their feet clean. Additionally, they were provided with grease made of whale oil to protect their feet from moisture. These simple steps greatly reduced the incidence of trench foot.
What are the symptoms of trench foot?
Although trench foot is no longer the problem it once was, cases of it do crop up from time to time. People suffering from trench foot experience a variety of symptoms which may involve the whole foot or only part of the foot. They include:
- A feeling of heaviness
- A prickling sensation
- Red blotches
- Bad odor
- Pale skin
- Blisters on feet
When the skin on the feet blisters and breaks down, the skin that is left behind becomes necrotic. If this condition is not treated, the result can be gangrene, which may result in amputation. Luckily, it is possible to treat trench foot early and prevent this dreadful state of affairs.
Do we have to worry about trench foot today?
These days, trench foot is a very rare foot malady; however, there are still certain groups of people who suffer from it. Examples include people who assist with disasters, builders, security guards and people who spend quite a bit of time in the wilderness such as campers and hikers. Additionally, people who attend festivals and outdoor events in adverse weather conditions are prone to trench foot.
Anyone who spends long periods of time standing in very wet, cold conditions needs to be aware of the danger. It is important to understand that, although it is a particular risk in cold, wet weather, trench foot can happen in warmer temperatures. It is possible for the condition to develop in temperatures up to 15C.
How can trench foot be avoided and treated?
First and foremost, it’s important to wear proper footwear that protects your feet from the damp and cold. If you find yourself stuck in a cold, wet situation take care not to stand in one place for an extended period of time. You must move around enough to keep the blood flowing in your feet.
Additionally, you must not keep your shoes or boots on for days on end even if you are stranded or lost. You must take them off and clean your feet and change your socks (if at all possible) at least once a day.
If you’ve been in a situation where development of trench foot is likely and you feel discomfort in your feet, it is important that you take steps right away to avoid permanent damage. Follow this procedure:
- Take off your shoes and socks
- Clean your feet and dry them completely
- Elevate your feet and gently warm them
- Do not put on socks because this may cause moisture to accumulate
- Keep your feet dry and warm by covering them with a blanket, towel or similar item
- Stay off your feet
These steps should address your symptoms and prevent trench foot from developing further. If after several hours, your feet feel painful and tender or appear red and dry, you should seek medical assistance. This is especially true if the skin of your feet is blistered or has a rash.
If you neglect to take care of your feet when trench foot has set in, discoloured, greenish black skin may develop. This is gangrene, and is definitely a signal that you must see a doctor right away. Likewise, if you have a foot injury it will be unlikely to heal properly if you also have trench foot.
Good general foot care habits can help you prevent trench foot
Although contracting trench foot is not a usually a danger in everyday life, it always pays to take good care of your feet. Doing so can help you avoid all kinds of foot problems, including the development of trench foot should you find yourself subjected to circumstances that might cause it.
Here are some everyday foot care steps you can take to prevent trench foot and take good care of your feet:
- Keep your feet clean and dry
- When lying down or sitting, elevate your feet to improve circulation
- Keep your boots or shoes clean inside and out
- Allow your shoes to dry completely between wearing
- Change your socks frequently to ensure dry feet
- Dress appropriately to stay warm all over
- When standing be sure to shift your weight and move your feet and legs to improve blood circulation
- Use talcum powder or baking soda on your feet to help keep them dry
- Be sure your shoes or boots fit properly
- Don’t wear the same shoes every day
- If your feet tend to perspire excessively, use an antiperspirant on the soles
- Eat and sleep well and exercise regularly for overall good health
When you practice good health habits, you are naturally more resilient and less susceptible to all manner of health problems. Remember that your feet are the foundation of your body, so developing the habit of taking good care of them will serve you well.
In the unlikely event you do develop trench foot, don’t despair! With proper precautions and prompt treatment, trench foot is not necessarily a tragedy. If you take your symptoms seriously, follow the advice presented here and seek medical attention as needed, your chances of full recovery are very good, indeed!
Disclaimer: PediReviews.co.uk does not provide medical advice, treatment or diagnosis.