What can I do about my painfully cold feet?
October 30, 2013 11:22 PM   Subscribe

I have moved to a tropical climate for the past 5 years in order to avoid cold, but I am in Finland for the next few months, and I forgot how painfully cold my feet get. Even when my body is warm, my feet can be painfully cold. Usually my feet are sweaty and my socks are damp. I change socks rather often, and I soak my feet in hot water a few times a day. These things all help but about an hour later they're cold again. I am about 10 lbs overweight, and I walk a few miles a day. Wiggling my toes and flexing my ankles and calves helps a little bit. I considered buying electric socks but the reviews were poor. I read this similar question but it didn't seem to help much. Any advice?
posted by crawltopslow to Health & Fitness (38 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Space heater. Just a regular little cheap one from the drug store. Put it on the floor so it blows right on your feet.

Feels amazing, but get a big bottle of cocoa butter while you're at it because the space heater air is super dry.
posted by rue72 at 11:42 PM on October 30, 2013

Wool socks, if you're not wearing them already. Cotton sucks heat out of your body when it's wet, but wool works wet or dry.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:03 AM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

Is the problem outdoors or indoors, or both? Assuming outdoors:

Are your shoes or boots too tight? That's a killer.

Get a pair of felt-pac boots. Seriously, these are the greatest winter clothing invention ever. You don't even need thick socks and you can wear them comfy and loose if you want, or snug. They're a bit dorky but, warm feet, right?

If indoors, I wonder if you should get your circulation checked out. Warm socks can and will help, but make sure your legs are warm to get warmth to your feet, and lightweight long underwear (even indoors) can help a real lot. By the way, my feet sweat a lot when I wear wool against them, so I always wear an inner sock then an outer wool sock or wool slippers. Your sweaty feet might be a reaction to the very thing you are trying to help yourself with.
posted by Rumple at 12:35 AM on October 31, 2013

Smart Wool Socks are your jam.

These are hiking/expedition gear.
posted by jbenben at 12:48 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Indoors, outdoors I have problem with both. I already currently wear cotton socks then wool socks on the outside. I have tried every combination of socks other than electric. None have helped much.
posted by crawltopslow at 12:54 AM on October 31, 2013

Down booties, like these:


I've used similar ones when snow-camping(<10 degree weather) and my feet were, if not toasty, at least not frozen.
posted by aleatorictelevision at 12:58 AM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Chemical toe warmers are what I use when doing field work in chilly locations. I am afraid I don't know if or where they are available in Finland.

Down booties are also good. And we used to have something we called "moon boots", which were just enormous foam-insulated boots that were no good for getting places but great for sitting around the tent.
posted by fermion at 1:12 AM on October 31, 2013

I often have cold feet, and I used to get chilblains a lot when I was a kid. When the weather is cold, I find starting out with warm feet makes the biggest difference. I sleep with a hot wheat bag at my feet, and in really bad weather, in socks too; when I get up, my feet go straight into wool socks, and warm slippers/shoes. I think it can be hard to warm feet up from cold, but if they never get a chance to cool off, they stay warm ok.

I've used those chemical feet warmers too, and they are really great! I had a pair in a pair of not very warm boots in a Canadian winter, and trudged through slush and snow with super toasty feet!
posted by Kaleidoscope at 1:41 AM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I had bad frostbite and ended up with cold feet. I was told DO NOT soak your feet in hot water as it makes the problem worse over time. (Shrinks capillaries I think, and also since your feet are cold they can't accurately tell how hot the water is.)

Circulation is key. Get cardio, keep your core warm. If your feet are cold, do 5 min of jumping jacks. Pre-warm your bed with a hot water bottle. Take off your shoes as much as possible so they don't stay sweaty and confined. Wool socks without tight bands so they don't constrict the circulation. Do whatever you can to get blood flowing and to attack the problem indirectly (ie without applying heat directly to the feet).
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:03 AM on October 31, 2013

The best way for me to get my feet warm is talking a walk.
I tend to walk around the neighbourhood for 15 minutes, then sit and relax for another 15 minutes, then go to bed (which is preheated by my electric blanket, that I switched on before I went out for my walk). Works every time.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:13 AM on October 31, 2013

Seconding smartwool. Also, I'd consider getting tested for diabetes as a precautionary measure.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:24 AM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

I came in to say down booties. I have feet problems too and you have to be careful with the overly hot water and space heaters. Definitely buy good quality wool socks/smartwool, make sure shoes/boots are waterproof, oh yeah, those skiing heaters are good too. Go to Dr. as well to check for bigger problems. First, I would get down booties for at home. Secondly, I just agreed with everyone else here. I also try to elevate feet as much as possible...
posted by bquarters at 3:36 AM on October 31, 2013

No cotton socks!! Never!!
posted by bquarters at 3:37 AM on October 31, 2013 [11 favorites]

Are you male or female? Is there a treatable circulatory problem?
posted by mecran01 at 4:00 AM on October 31, 2013

Have you tried massage? I find it increases my circulation so well that my feet are very warm for days afterwards. YMMV.
posted by valleys at 4:01 AM on October 31, 2013

I also use a wheat bag when it's very cold. Plus wool socks by default in cold weather.
posted by crocomancer at 4:32 AM on October 31, 2013

Even when my body is warm, my feet can be painfully cold. Usually my feet are sweaty and my socks are damp.

Wet feet are cold feet. Cotton, in particular, absorbs water and stays wet. This increases the conduction of heat away from your feet and makes them cold. Solve the damp socks problem, and you will be warmer.

This is why many above are recommending switching to wool. It does not retain water as well as cotton, and loses less of its insulation when it is wet. A good wool sock is hard to beat. A smartwool sock (a fine wool, mostly merino from New Zealand) is probably the best thing going right now, if you only want to wear a single layer.

Better still are wicking underlayers, socks which draw moisture away from the feet. I use thin polypropylene socks under wool ones when I'm doing a lot of outdoor activity for better moisture control. There are lots of artificial fabric options now, however. Silk can work well as an underlayer too.

A common motto in hiking and fieldwork is "cotton kills". That means it holds water so well, cotton against the skin can easily cause hypothermia. Cotton is one of the worst materials for making people feel wet and cold.
posted by bonehead at 5:19 AM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yeah, try good wool on its own. The doubling up of socks means your shoes are too tight, which makes the problem worse. If your feet are always sweating (even when they're cold) you need to make sure your socks and shoes can breathe. So, Smartwool socks, Gore-tex boots. Firm but not tight.

Make sure you're hydrated, too - if not, there's just not enough blood volume to make it down to your feet (or something).
posted by notsnot at 5:38 AM on October 31, 2013

You definitely do NOT want to wear cotton as your inside layer! Try the wool socks alone - if the wool socks you have are too scratchy, try smart wool. You can also buy hiking docks that are designed to wick mousture away from your skin.

Getting rid of the cotton should make a huge difference.
posted by lunasol at 5:43 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you already wearing properly insulated boots outdoors? That fit you well and aren't too tight even over all the socks?

They can be expensive, but they're worth it. Night and day.

If you can, find a pair that's waterproof but still breathes a little, to avoid the worst of the sweaty feet problem.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:00 AM on October 31, 2013

Silk inner layer (a very light shell) with a smartwool outer layer.

Get them from REI.
posted by arnicae at 6:01 AM on October 31, 2013

I can't help with the cold, but drying your feet out may help you feel more comfortable and as others suggested might help with the cold. I'm in the US, and there's an over-the-counter product you can buy here called CertainDri that stops (or at least greatly reduces) sweating on the places it's applied.

I have very sweaty feet. I use CertainDri on them every other night, and it's been very effective -- my feet almost never sweat now. It's important to follow the directions on the package and to use the product for a several weeks before you give up on it -- it takes a while to kick in, like it has to build up.

The active ingredient in the regular version is aluminum chloride, and in the extra strength version is aluminum sesquichlorohydrate. In the US, you can get prescription versions that are stronger. I don't know if this product is available in Finland.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:03 AM on October 31, 2013

When just my feet, and not the rest of me was cold, I would use a heat pad, the kind you might use on a sore back or when you have cramps. Put it on medium or something and lay it on the floor. I would set my feet on it and alternate between having the soles of my feet resting on it or having it lay over the top of my feet like a little blanket. it was a great way to warm up and also control how hot I got.
posted by gilsonal at 6:18 AM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've spent the last three weeks working in a freezer. I found one of the most important things was not to cut off my circulation by wearing shoes that were too tight or too many pairs of socks. I took off a pair of socks and stopped tightening my (lined) boots around the ankle, and stopped getting such cold feet.

Also jumping up and down. Makes you look like a fool, but it gets the blood moving.
posted by kjs4 at 6:21 AM on October 31, 2013

Have you been checked for Raynaud's?
posted by penguin pie at 6:21 AM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

Cotton socks don't wick away moisture. Stop wearing them inside your wool socks!
posted by J. Wilson at 6:24 AM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This may sound counter intuitive, but I wear compression socks that go up to my knee, since despite exercising/keeping active, my circulation is just by default not amazing. My feet feel much warmer as a result. Tubular bandages, aka tubigrips, also work great.
posted by troytroy at 6:31 AM on October 31, 2013

No idea on availability in Finland, but after years of suffering white feet because of Reynaud's, I just purchased this foot warming pad for underneath my desk. LIFE CHANGING. It's too hot with the on/off switch, and other reviewers recommended purchasing an $8 dimmer to turn the heat down a bit. It works perfectly.

I'd also suggest an electric throw blanket. You can keep it on your lap and it works to keep both your hands and feet warm.

SmartWool socks - they are wool, not itchy, and will last for years. I wouldn't get the ones marked as ski or snowboard socks - they sometimes have compression that can make my circulation worse. Just get the regular trouser socks - there are many models and here is one example.

No cotton liner socks, never. Wool socks. If you need a liner, they make these very thin nylon lining socks and silk liners.

The chemical heatpacks come as insoles. They don't bunch up and give very even heat. They are not cheap, but for me, they have enabled me to be outside.

Again, sorry about not being able to help with Finland availability, but hopefully these give you a sense of products out there in the world!
posted by barnone at 7:00 AM on October 31, 2013

An electric blanket or electric heating pad

Lambswool lined moccasins or double knit, super thick, knee-high wool or wool/silk blend socks.
posted by windykites at 7:04 AM on October 31, 2013

Also at the risk of sounding silly- you are wearing slippers inside over your socks? If not, try it- socks alone aren't enough!
posted by windykites at 7:09 AM on October 31, 2013

I am a cold-feet-sufferer myself. In my hometown I can usually deal with it but while studying abroad it got worse. Can I recommend a glass of red wine a little while before going to bed? Warms my hands and feet right up so I can get comfortable enough and settle down for sleep. YMMV but you've got nothing to loose if you try it for a week!
posted by CrazyLemonade at 7:19 AM on October 31, 2013

I got these Sorel slippers for Christmas last year and my feet have never been warmer. I live in Minnesota, so they get plenty of use.
posted by advicepig at 7:21 AM on October 31, 2013

I sleep with a heating pad at night (at least until my feet get warm), socks, and multiple blankets. I don't have a lot of non-night suggestions that weren't said up thread.

I've had my eye on the warming foot pad for ages. I'm glad to hear it's great (thanks barnone).
posted by getawaysticks at 8:50 AM on October 31, 2013

I purchased Hot Shotz and I bet they will work for you. They are reusable, all you have to do is boil for 10 min to reactivate. Using non-toxic ingredients, I am not fearful using them. I'd put one pack in each sock.

Have you been checked for diabetes and Raynaud's? There are several medical conditions that could be causing your symptoms.

Best of luck.
posted by 6:1 at 9:40 AM on October 31, 2013

Nthing those REI down booties (for inside at least) and not wearing cotton socks under your wool socks.
posted by freezer cake at 10:10 AM on October 31, 2013

I also say ditch the cotton, silk sock layers are much better. Angora wool from rabbits is amazingly warm (and the rabbits are not harmed by the plucking of the wool). You can probably find them in Finland- my angora long johns were from Norway. I would also suggest knee socks for the wooly layer at least. It's good to make sure that your shoes fit well and do not constrict in any way. Avoid caffeine and nicotine, and eat more foods higher in B3 (niacin).

I find foot and ankle exercises seem more productive if I stretch and massage my foot with a roller ball. You can just use a smaller dog ball, they are much cheaper.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:40 PM on October 31, 2013

In addition to the aforementioned tools, you may find that acupuncture is effective for boosting circulation in problem areas. My mom has a similar challenge, and found relief in acupuncture - one treatment was usually effective for 3-4 months. YMMV.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 2:13 PM on October 31, 2013

Yep. Cotton socks are a big part of your problem. Go with wool. If it's too scratchy, go with Smartwool or a similar variant. Wool hiking socks will serve you well.
posted by cnc at 5:36 PM on October 31, 2013

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