The English phrase "cold feet" was first used to describe a lack of courage or enthusiasm around the turn of the 20th century. But there's no medical connection between cold feet and the human fear response.
Instead, chilly feet typically result from extreme weather, circulatory problems, nerve damage, or genetic predisposition. In this article, we'll discuss some of the most common causes of cold feet. Then, we'll look at techniques you can use to help keep your feet warm.
When you're exposed to cold weather, the circulatory system responds quickly. The vessels in your arms and legs constrict, reducing blood flow to the feet and hands. This serves to keep warm blood in the torso and deep body core, protecting your vital organs.
As a result, the skin temperature in your feet and hands begins to cool down, approaching the temperature of the surrounding environment. In life or death situations, this biological response could save you; however, it's not necessary for survival on a slightly chilly day.
Compression socks, like the ones we sell at Comrad, may help moderate your skin temperature and keep your feet feeling warm. They also improve your overall circulation, so that warm blood flows through your lower limbs, keeping them healthy and energized.
What Causes Cold Feet?
In addition to extreme weather conditions, cold feet can be caused by certain medical conditions and genetic characteristics. Depending on the cause, cold feet may present alongside other symptoms.
Peripheral Arterial Disease
Atherosclerosis, a buildup of fat in the arteries, can slow blood flow from the heart to the limbs. Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) occurs when arteries in the legs and arms become blocked, limiting the blood flow to the feet and hands. Risk factors for PAD include old age, diabetes, obesity, smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Patients with PAD experience several symptoms, such as leg cramping, pins and needles, numbness, and sores.
PAD also mimics the body's natural response to frigid weather by reducing blood flow to the extremities. PAD patients often feel cold in their feet and hands without enough warm blood flowing to the limbs. In severe cases, PAD can cause sores that don't heal. When sores become infected, some patients require leg amputation. So, cold feet could be an early warning sign of more serious medical problems, especially for patients with PAD.
Raynaud's disease, or Raynaud's phenomenon, also causes a reduction in blood flow to the extremities. Unlike PAD, which is caused by fatty plaque in the arteries, Raynaud's disease results from spasming blood vessels. For patients with Raynaud's, cold temperatures, stress, and extreme emotion can all contribute to symptoms. The signs of Raynaud include color changes in the toes, fingers, and nose.
For Raynaud's patients, an insufficient flow of warm blood through the feet can cause cold feet and feelings of discomfort. Like PAD and cold weather, Raynaud's phenomenon limits normal circulation and lowers the skin temperature of the extremities.
The peripheral nerves are the nerves located outside the brain and spinal cord. When they suffer damage, peripheral neuropathy (PN) may result. This condition can lead to muscle weakness, sensory loss, numbness, pain, tingling, and burning sensations. Although PN can impact many parts of the body, the early symptoms normally present in a "stocking and glove" pattern, impacting the feet and hands before moving on to other areas.
Patients with peripheral neuropathy commonly experience the sensation of cold feet, although their feet may not be cold to the touch. This is because nerve damage has blocked the signals from the nerves that would generally relay information about temperature. Losing feeling in the feet can also lead to more severe complications, such as injury from falling and infections from sores.
A study of twins published in Twin Research and Human Genetics suggests that cold feet are a highly heritable condition. The researchers evaluated survey data for eight hundred and ninety-four sets of twins. Their results indicate that temperature perception may be influenced, in part, by our genes. Unfortunately, the genetic factors that contribute to cold feet are not well understood at this time.
Later, a different group of researchers published an article about cold feet and hands in Integrative Medicine Research. They cited the twin study, explaining that cold hypersensitivity in the hands and feet is frequently found in women of Asian ethnicity. The researchers advocated for a standard clinical definition and diagnostic criteria to be adopted when discussing cold hypersensitivity in the hands and feet. To that end, they developed a survey based on the work of Korean medicine practitioners.
Although more research needs to be done on heritable cold feet, it is clear that some people experience cold feet without any underlying medical conditions or known causes.
How Do Compression Socks Help?
Several factors may contribute to the sensation of cold feet. Whatever the cause, wearing warm footwear and compression socks may help you to keep your feet toasty.
Warming the Skin
Compression therapy has been shown to improve the microcirculation of the skin and its thermal conductivity. In one study of women with venous disorders, 83 percent of the study participants saw improvements in their skin's ability to conduct heat using elastic compression stockings.
In another study, scientists observed significant differences in skin temperatures for runners, depending on whether they wore graduated compression stockings or not. The use of compression stockings was linked to increases in skin temperature. The runners did not experience significant increases in heart rate or perceived fatigue with the use of compression.
Taken together, these studies indicate that, by improving your overall circulation, compression socks may contribute to warmer feet.
Preventing and Healing Ulcers
A review of the scientific literature concludes that there is evidence to support the use of graduated compression stockings for healing venous ulcers and some evidence that they can prevent venous ulcers from recurring.
Since ulcers and sores are a significant complication for both PAD and PN, compression socks may be a tool to promote wound healing for patients with cold feet. Since the ulcers caused by PAD and PN may present unique challenges compared to venous ulcers, it's important to consult your doctor before introducing compression therapy as a part of your treatment plan.
At Comrad, we bond silver ions directly to the fabric of our best-selling Companions and our recycled cotton socks. The antimicrobial properties of silver help to prevent the growth of mold, fungus, and bacteria. This makes our socks a great choice for anyone trying to avoid dangerous complications from cuts, ulcers, or sores.
How to Stay Warm
To soothe cold extremities, try layering compression socks under other warm footwear. For example, you can try wearing thick wool socks over your Comrad compression socks. When combined with shoes made for cold weather, these layers should help to protect your calves, lower legs, ankles, and feet from the cold.
Avoid a sedentary lifestyle. Exercising can help you improve poor circulation and prevent certain medical conditions. Aerobic activity jump-starts your metabolism, balances your blood sugar levels, and benefits your heart health. With every heartbeat, your body pumps warm blood into your extremities. When you elevate your heart rate, you may notice that your legs and feet feel warmer.
Don't be afraid to experiment with your footwear and your workouts. After all, just because your feet tend to be cold doesn't mean that you should have "cold feet" when it comes to compression. If you have a medical condition, especially PN or PAD, simply check in with a physician before wearing compression socks. You may find they're just what the doctor ordered—an inexpensive and fast way to warm your feet and lower legs.