Written By: Chloe Wilson BSc(Hons) Physiotherapy
Reviewed By: FPE Medical Review Board
Trench Foot is caused by prolonged exposure to damp, cold, unsanitary conditions.
The foot become numbs, changes color, swells and starts to smell due to damage to the skin, blood vessels and nerves in the feet.
Trench foot was first recorded back in 1812 with Napolean's Army and it was a big problem during World War One. But nowadays, it's festival goers and fishermen, as well as soldiers who tend to suffer from it most.
It can take three to six months to fully recover from Trench Foot and prompt treatment is essential to prevent gangrene and possible foot amputation.
The medical term for Trench Foot is Non Freezing Cold Injury (NFCI) and it is also known as Immersion Foot or Crumpet Foot.
Trench foot is one of the less common causes of pain on the bottom of the foot.
Here we will look at the causes, symptoms, treatment options, recovery process and how to prevent trench feet. You can also find out which celebrities have suffered from this problem!
Trench Foot is caused by prolonged exposure to damp, cold conditions and poor environmental hygiene.
With immersion foot, the blood vessels constrict in an attempt to keep warm by reducing blood flow to the extremities. This reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients to the feet which can result in tissue and nerve damage.
Unlike frostbite, trench foot doesn’t require freezing temperatures. It can develop in temperatures up to 16 degrees celsius (60 degrees fahrenheit) and can even affect people indoors.
Any wet environment, be it from excessive sweating to wearing damp socks and shoes, can cause Immersion Foot to develop.
It can take less than a day of exposure to poor conditions for Trench Foot to develop. Nowadays, immersion foot is most commonly seen in builders, hikers, extreme-sports enthusiasts, security guards, campers, aid-workers and festival goers.
At the 1998 Glastonbury music festival, doctors were seeing approximately ninety people a day with Trench Foot.
Trench foot symptoms can affect the heels, toes or entire foot.
The classic presentation of NFCI is a cold, swollen, white/grey foot that can feel numb, heavy, painful and prickly.
In the early stages of trench feet, blood vessels constrict in cold, moist conditions resulting in a lack of oxygen to the tissues.
The feet become cold, numb and mildly swollen, painful and discolored.
If Trench Foot is allowed to progress, tissue and nerve damage occur. Swelling increases and a constant pins and needles sensation develops. In extreme cases of Crumpet Foot, blisters and ulcers develop, skin starts to peel off and tissues begin to die, resulting in gangrene.
Treatment for Trench Foot should be started as soon as possible to reduce the risk of permanent damage and may involve a combination of:
With prompt treatment, Trench Foot usually settles down in a few weeks. However, if symptoms are ignored and treatment is delayed, it can take up to 6 months to fully recover.
As Trench Feet start to heal, the swelling reduces and the foot color returns to normal. Blisters often form and there can be temporary severe pain as the tissues warm and feeling returns.
There may also be ongoing problems with itching, pins and needles, excessive sweating and cold sensitivity that can last for several months with Trench Foot.
As always, prevention is better than cure as Trench Foot can be extremely painful. The best ways to avoid getting a Non-Freezing Cold Injury to the feet are:
Anyone can get Trench Foot! Check out this list of famous sufferers of NFCI:
Trench Foot originates back to 1812 with Napoleon’s Army but is most commonly associated with the trench soldiers in the First World War.
It affected approximately twenty thousand soldiers in the British Army alone in the winter of 1914-15.
The numbers of casualties dropped dramatically with improved trench drainage and conditions, but non-freezing cold injuries still affects people today.
Trench foot is a common cause of foot arch pain and responds well to treatment, as long as trench foot treatment starts quickly after symptoms develop.
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If Trench Foot doesn't sound like your problem, you can find out about other common causes of foot pain in the foot conditions section. Alternatively, if you want some help working out what is wrong, visit the foot pain diagnosis section.
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Page Last Updated: 01/31/23
Next Review Due: 01/31/25