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Trench Foot: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

What is Trench Foot?

Trench Foot, which is also known by the name of Immersion Foot Syndrome, occurs as a result of tissue damage due to excessive exposure to cold and wet weather conditions. Trench Foot causes pain, swelling, and altered sensation in the foot. Damage is also inflicted in the nerves, vessels, muscles, and even the skin. Sometimes Trench Foot is misconstrued as frostbite but these two are completely different conditions as Trench Foot does not cause freezing as seen in cases of frostbite.[1]

Trench Foot was quite common during World War II; however, with advancement of medical science not much tissue damage is inflicted in cases of Trench Foot these days. Trench Foot is not a contagious condition and is completely preventable. It does not need to be freezing temperatures outside for an individual to get Trench Foot.

What is Trench Foot?

It can occur in temperatures as cold as 16 degrees Celsius. Another fact about Trench Foot is that it can develop very rapidly in a matter of about 10 to 12 hours.[1]

Additionally, if the weather condition is wet and it is raining then there is destruction of the capillaries and surrounding tissues. Excessive sweating is also a major contributing factor in the development of Trench Foot.[1]

What Causes Trench Foot?

Trench Foot is condition that is caused due to exposure of the feet to low and wet weather conditions. This happens when the low temperatures interfere with the blood flow to the foot. The symptom onset can be quite rapid with some people having symptoms with an hour or two of exposure to low temperatures while there are others who start having symptoms may be after about a week of exposure. How severe the symptoms will be depends on how cold it is and how much moisture is there in the atmosphere.[2]

Trench Foot is mainly seen in people who serve in the army and some studies suggest that the stress that army personnel has to go through also plays a part in the development of Trench Foot. Fishermen are also quite vulnerable for developing Trench Foot as they spend quite a long time in cold and wet weather conditions.[2]

What are the Symptoms of Trench Foot?

The primary presenting features of Trench Foot includes

  • Itching and tingling sensation in the feet
  • Foot pain
  • Swelling
  • Areas of skin that are cold
  • Numbness[2]

As and when the foot becomes warm there is also a distinct color change from whitish to red and it becomes extremely painful and dry. In some cases, blisters can also form causing the tissues to fall off from the foot. Trench Foot, if not treated, can result in gangrene ultimately requiring amputation of the affected site. Trench Foot is basically categorized into four stages[2]

Stage 1: This is also called as the injury stage. In this stage, there is restriction of blood flow and the tissues become numb and cold. There is also discoloration of the affected limb with it turning white or red. The patient does not have any pain in this stage of the condition.[2]

Stage 2: This is the post-injury status. This occurs when the limb is warmed after exposure to severe cold and wet conditions. The color of the affected foot becomes red from white but it will be cold and numb. Some people also have swelling.[2]

Stage 3: This stage lasts for at least three months. In this stage, the affected becomes warm and red and there is dryness of the skin. The patient will experience some numbness and tingling, and in some cases there will also be blisters.[2]

Stage 4: This is more or less a permanent stage in Trench Foot as it remains for the rest of the life of the individual. The patient will have increased cold sensitivity, pins and needles sensation, and some amount of pain in the affected foot.[2]

How is Trench Foot Treated?

An individual should go for a physician consultation at the earliest if his feet has been exposed to cold and wet weather conditions. After a thorough examination of the foot, the physician will decide about the stage of the condition and formulate treatment based on that. It should be noted here that the immediate symptoms of Trench Foot can be treated but due to the tissue damage there may be pain that becomes chronic. Thus a patient with a known diagnosis of Trench Foot will require diligent and long term follow up and care.[2]

Some of the steps that people with Trench Foot can take immediately include taking the patient to a warmer place and warm up the affected foot gently and slowly, as doing it quickly causes more harm than good. For any pain, the patient can be given medications [2]

If Trench Foot is left untreated or there is a delay in treatment then ambulation may become problematic for the patient due to the pain and swelling. In such cases, it is advised that they avoid walking and elevate their feet to improve circulation. Medications like ibuprofen can also be given to calm down the inflammation caused due to Trench Foot.[2]


Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:February 28, 2020

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