Cold Feet in Winter: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Winter is the time for thick socks, cozy blankets, and warm boots. But sometimes they’re not enough. If your feet are always cold in winter, check out this handy guide and learn more about the causes and treatment of cold feet.

What causes cold feet and sensitive toes in winter?

Cold feet are a fairly common symptom, so you’re definitely not alone. But why are your feet freezing even when the rest of your body is warm?

Decreased blood circulation

Your feet might be cold because they don’t get enough blood. One reason this happens is atherosclerosis, a health condition when fatty deposits (plaque) build up in the arteries and block blood flow.

When the arteries that carry blood to your legs get narrower because of fatty plaque, it may be a sign of peripheral arterial disease.

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Another reason the arteries in your feet might become narrow is Raynaud’s disease. This is a health condition that makes the small blood vessels in your hands and feet overreact to cold temperatures or stress.

Nerve damage

Cold feet aren’t always caused by problems with your arteries. Sometimes, damaged nerves might be the culprit.

Damage to nerves outside the brain and spinal cord is called peripheral neuropathy. It causes symptoms such as numbness, pain, weakness, tingling, and feelings of cold or extreme heat. It can also make your toes or fingers extremely sensitive to the touch.

The most frequent cause of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes, but there are other health conditions that can damage your nerves:

  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Severe vitamin deficiencies
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Certain infections
  • Exposure to poisons

Nerves can also be damaged as a result of injuries and surgeries.

Other causes

Some health conditions, such as hypothyroidism and anemia, as well as medications like beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers, can make you feel cold all over. However, some people who have cold feet don’t have any underlying diseases.

The best way to figure out what makes your feet so cold is to ask your doctor. They’ll conduct a variety of diagnostic tests to find the underlying cause.

Other symptoms that may accompany cold feet

Cold feet can come with a variety of other symptoms.

For example, nerve damage can cause strange tingling feelings, pain, and numbness. Extreme sensitivity to touch is also possible.

Some people with cold feet experience cramps and pain in their calves, hips, or thighs when walking and exercising.

While it’s easy to dismiss these symptoms, they may be signs of peripheral artery disease.

If you warm your cold feet too quickly (for example, by taking a hot shower after coming home in wet boots), your toes might turn red, sore, and even itchy. This is called chilblains or perniosis. Chilblains are the most common cause of red and painful toes in winter.

How to prevent cold sweaty feet in winter

Everyone, even the healthiest people, gets cold, sweaty feet from time to time. Here’s how to keep your feet warm and dry in the coldest months of the year.

Wear the right boots and socks

Wearing shoes that are too tight can make your feet cold and sweaty. The same goes for shoes that are made of non-breathable materials.

To make sure your feet stay warm and dry, opt for high-quality socks made of soft natural fibers. Socks shouldn’t be too tight, otherwise they might interfere with blood circulation and make your feet even colder.

Having cold feet when walking in the snow in winter

Avoid wearing the same shoes two days in a row

Let your winter boots dry out completely after wearing them once. This means you should let them rest for 1–2 days. Wet shoes will make your feet feel cold and increase the likelihood of fungal infections.

Stay active

Exercising improves your circulation so that your feet get enough blood. This helps keep them warm and comfortable. If you’re not in the mood for a full-blown workout, even wiggling your toes and moving your ankles can help!

Manage your stress levels

Your feet and hands can be unusually cold when you’re stressed or anxious. While it’s especially common in people who have Raynaud’s disease, this can occur in anyone. Stress can push blood away from your feet and towards your core.

While you can’t eliminate stress from your life, you can learn how to manage it.

There are many stress-relief techniques, such as breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, and journaling.

If you’re having trouble finding ways to manage stress, it’s a good idea to talk to a mental health professional. They’ll suggest stress management techniques that are tailored to your personality and situation. They may also prescribe medications that can help you manage stress-related anxiety.

When to see a doctor about cold feet

Everyone gets cold hands and feet in winter from time to time. But if your feet are cold most of the time, this can be a warning sign of serious diseases such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, or anemia. This is why it’s important to consult your doctor if your feet are unusually cold.

During your medical appointment, your doctor may ask you if you also have symptoms such as:

  • Fatigue
  • Unexpected weight gain or loss
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Sores that take a long time to heal
  • Changes on your skin
  • Any other sensations in your feet

An honest discussion of your symptoms will help your doctor identify the underlying cause of your cold feet and suggest effective treatment strategies.

How to treat cold and sensitive feet in winter

How do you treat your feet to keep them warm and comfortable? Here are some actionable tips to try.

Treat or manage the underlying cause

Cold feet can be caused by a variety of health conditions. Many of them, such as diabetes and atherosclerosis, can lead to life-threatening complications if not managed correctly.

This is why it’s so important to discuss your cold feet with your doctor. They’ll find out the underlying cause and suggest ways to treat or manage it.

Wearing socks to prevent cold feet in winter

Wear warm socks (even in bed)

To keep your sensitive feet warm, pamper them with cozy slippers and high-quality socks made of merino wool or other breathable natural materials. Make sure your socks aren’t too tight; otherwise, they may disrupt your blood circulation and make your feet even colder!

If you get cold feet at night, you can even wear your favorite socks to bed.

Warm your feet slowly

If you come home with cold, wet feet and immediately take a hot shower, your toes can get red, itchy, and painful. This is called chilblains.

To prevent chilblains, it’s best to warm your feet up gradually. For example, you could put on warm slippers and start tapping your feet or moving your legs to get the blood flowing.

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Get new shoes

Your feet change throughout your life. Shoes that used to fit you perfectly several years ago can become too tight and prevent blood from flowing freely through your arteries and veins. This can lead to cold feet.

In addition to this, tight shoes can put pressure on your nerves and make neuropathy symptoms (including pain and cold sensations) worse.

It’s a good idea to get your feet measured professionally once or twice a year and to buy new shoes whenever your shoe size changes.

Key takeaways

Cold feet are a common problem, especially in the winter months. Sometimes they’re harmless, but they can also be a symptom of serious diseases such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, hypothyroidism, or anemia.

This is why it’s a good idea to discuss your symptoms with your doctor. They’ll find the underlying cause of your cold feet and suggest treatment options.

In addition to this, make sure you’re wearing the right shoes. Tight or ill-fitting footwear can make your symptoms worse. The same goes for socks; make sure they’re made of warm materials like wool and don’t fit too tightly.

You can also reduce the problem of cold feet by staying active and managing your stress levels.

By picking the right footwear and following your doctor’s advice, you’ll be warm and cozy throughout the winter, no matter how cold it is!

August 19, 2022