Winter Increases Risk of Foot Injury

During winter, when many outdoor surfaces become slippery and dangerous, you’re at higher risk of foot injury.

person walking on icy road

Winter outdoor activities and sports — like ice skating, sledding, skiing and snowboarding — also increase your chances of injuring your feet. Colder weather can lead to foot issues for other reasons. For instance:

  • Winter boots can squeeze toes unnaturally, increasing the risk of problems like bunions.
  • Cold temperatures can cause frostbite, which most often occurs in the toes and can result in permanent damage and numbness.
  • Slips and falls can cause stress fractures, tiny cracks that can occur in the bones of the feet or other parts of the body.

About Stress Fractures

Stress fractures can be very painful and can lead to a complete break if not treated — and they’re more common in winter. Athletes who run or jump frequently are commonly afflicted by stress fractures, since these activities put extra strain on the foot. However, non-athletes can get them too, and even standing on a hard floor for a long time can produce a stress fracture.

Symptoms of stress fracture include pain, swelling, redness and bruising, and stress fractures often come on quickly. The symptoms may subside if the person stops the activity; however, they often return after the activity resumes, and the pain can be worse. Foot doctors (podiatrists) can diagnose stress fractures through physical examination and, if needed, can schedule an imaging test like an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis.

At first, a doctor may recommend rest, icing the painful area, elevating the foot and using anti-inflammatory medications at home. During this time, the doctor may also recommend wearing a cast boot as the stress fracture heals. Although it’s rare, surgery may be needed to treat this condition.

Protecting Your Feet in the Winter

Here are some tips to reduce your risk of foot injury and pain in the colder winter months:

  • Build strength to avoid falls. Building leg muscle strength and performing exercises that help improve balance can help you avoid falls in winter and at any time of the year. Read the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services article, “Lower Your Risk of Falling,” for more tips.
  • Wear footwear designed for winter and wear it consistently. It can be tempting to briefly step outside in your slippers to take out the trash, check the mail or call the dog back into the house. But if you do, you’re at greater risk of slipping and falling. Make it a habit to never step outside the door unless you’re wearing proper footwear.
  • Check that last year’s boots still fit properly. As we age, our feet often get wider. Before stepping out for the first time this winter season, make sure your boots still fit properly.
  • Choose water-resistant footwear. Keeping your feet dry is important to help avoid injury and maintain foot health. If the footwear you own is not water-resistant, you may be more likely to develop blisters, calluses or other foot problems. If your boots aren’t water-resistant, consider applying a water-resistant spray or wax to them.
  • Keep floors dry. Wearing winter boots into the house can leave puddles, which can make floors slippery. Keep a dry mop or old towel near the door so you can wipe up any snow or ice.