What is a trench foot?
Posted: Feb 12, 2021
Trench foot is a serious condition of the foot that is not very common these days that results from your feet being kept wet for longer periods of time. Historically, trench foot first gained notoriety during the first World War when soldiers got the trench foot from fighting in cold, wet conditions in trenches. It has been estimated that more 75,000 British soldiers died during that war as a result of the complications from this problem. Since then, the importance of soldiers fighting in trenches to keep their feet as dry as possible to prevent the problem is well known. Trench foot can occur today in activities in which the foot is wet for prolonged periods of time, such as hiking in wet conditions for several days.
The appearance of the foot with trench foot includes blisters, a blotchy and wrinkly appearance to the skin and a redness. The symptoms include coldness, a heaviness feeling, numbness, it can be painful when exposed to heat, persistent itching, and a tingling feeling. Usually the whole foot is affected, but sometimes it can be just a portion of the foot.
Trench foot is clearly caused by feet that become wet and stay wet and do not get dried off properly. While cold can be a factor, it is the wetness that is crucial. If the trench foot is not treated promptly it can lead to complications including the need for an amputation, severe blisters, a painful gait, gangrene and ulcers, and long-term nerve damage. Trench foot is easy to diagnose based on the appearance of the foot and the history of wetness.
As health professionals have learned more about the nature of trench foot the treatment has improved. During the war, trench foot was first treated with bed rest and foot washes made from lead and opium. As the symptoms improved, massages and plant-based oils were applied used. If the symptoms of trench foot did not improve then amputation was sometimes necessary to prevent infection and circulation problems from spreading to other areas of the body.
The early and mild symptoms of trench foot can easily be self-treated by removing the socks and dry and clean the feet thoroughly; applying heat packs to the area can help stimulate the circulation; and do not wear socks to bed. The foot should be monitored carefully for the development of any complications. If this approach does not settle is quickly or if the symptoms are more severe, then a visit to a health professional is warranted. Further rest and elevation is often advised. The quality of the circulation will need to be assessed and if it is not adequate and steps taken to deal with that. Medication may also be needed to help with pain if that is a problem. If caught early, trench foot is easily treatable without causing any further complications. Prevention of trench foot is crucial, and soldiers are well educated in that. The feet must be kept dry and having and extra pair of socks handy is a good option.
Craig Payne is a University lecturer, runner, cynic, researcher, skeptic, forum admin, woo basher, clinician, rabble-rouser, blogger and a dad.