Tips to Avoid Cold Weather Injuries

Tips to Avoid Cold Weather Injuries

by Shelia M. Tenny, OTR/L, CHTLeave a Comment

As the cold weather sets in, it’s important to take precautions to avoid injuries due to freezing temperatures. In this blog, we’ll discuss some of the most well-known cold weather injuries as told by our Hand Therapy experts as well as tips to avoid them.


Frostbite is an injury to the skin and underlying tissue when exposed to freezing temperatures or direct contact with ice, frozen metal or very cold liquids and can occur in a relatively short amount of time depending on the conditions. It is most common on the fingers, toes, ear, cheeks and chin.1 It can result in permanent injury or even partial or whole loss of a finger or the nose.3 This occurs in the ends of the extremities, due to the body attempting to keep the vital organs warm, such as the heart and lungs. The body will constrict blood flow to the limbs, causing them to become cool more quickly. Frostbite requires medical attention in a hospital setting as it can cause damage to the skin, tissue, muscles and bones. Damage can be severe enough that amputation is required. Further complications may include infection along with nerve damage. At risk populations for frostbite include children, the elderly, smokers and those who have had frostbite previously are more likely to suffer frostbite.

Frost Nip

The initial phase, frost nip, is a milder form of cold injury that doesn’t cause permanent damage. During frost nip, the skin may become pale/white or waxy in color, due to blood vessel spasm. The fingers and hand may become numb.1,2 Frost nip can be treated with first aide measures, such as slowly rewarming the affected skin.

Tips to Avoid Freezing Injuries

To prevent these serious, painful and potentially life changing injuries, caution should be taken. Here are some tips to avoid frostbite and frost nip.

  • Dress appropriately for the season. Dress in layers, including hats, gloves, foot wear, scarves, neck, ear coverings, thermal layer and a coat. Air trapped between the layers acts as insulation to hold in warmth.1,3
  • Wear windproof and waterproof outer garments to protect against wind, snow and rain. Change out of wet clothing, especially gloves, socks and hats, as soon as possible.1
  • Wear a hat or headband that fully covers the ears, made of wool or windproof material.1
  • Wear properly insulated gloves or mittens. Mittens provide better protection than gloves as they trap in the warm air. Consider a thin pair of glove liners made of a wicking material, under a pair of heavier gloves or mittens.1
  • Have a spare pair of gloves, socks, warm clothing and a blanket in your car, should your car break down or you be stuck due to a traffic or other emergency. Pocket hand warmers are a good addition to your first aid kit and could be used to warm your feet, nose or ears as well.3
  • Plan ahead. When traveling in cold weather, carry warm clothing and emergency supplies should you be stranded. Tell others of your route and when you are expected to return, should you be in a remote area where communication is limited.
  • Wear socks and sock liners that fit well, wick moisture and provide insulation.1
  • Consider adding hand and foot warmers to your gloves or shoes, so long as they don’t make your shoes too tight, restricting blood flow.1
  • Keep moving! Light exercise and walking can keep the blood flowing and help you stay warm. Be sure to avoid over exhaustion, especially in a survival situation.
  • Risk of frostbite increases as air temperature falls below 5℉ (-15℃) even with low wind speeds. In a wind chill of -16℉ (-27 ℃), frostbite can occur on exposed skin in less than 30 minutes. Avoid prolonged exposure without proper attire. Be mindful of children and adults who have to wait for or walk a distance to or from a bus.1
  • Avoid touching materials such as ice, cold packs or frozen metal with exposed skin.1
  • Staying hydrated and eating well-balanced meals before going in the cold, will help you maintain warmth.
  • Avoid alcohol as this can cause your body to lose heat faster when you are outdoors.1
  • Watch for signs of frost nip-red or pale skin, tingling and numbness. Seek shelter and warmth if you observe any of the signs of frost nip.

It’s important to pay attention to your body and know the symptoms of frostbite and frost nip. If you experience either, seek medical help immediately.

If you have pain or injuries related to your hands or wrists, please reach out to our team of Hand Therapists. Our highly trained hand therapists aim to improve your mobility and range of motion through effective treatment of conditions that affect your hands or upper extremities. Free Assessments and appointments are available both in-clinic and virtually through our Telehealth platform.

Find a Hand Therapist Near You

Physical therapy is usually the thing you are told to do after medication, x-rays or surgery. The best way to fix your pain is to start where you normally finish – with physical therapy at Athletico.

The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

1. Frostbite. (2019, March 20). Retrieved from
2. Frostbite in Hands: Signs & Treatment: The Hand Society. (n.d.). Retrieved from
3. The American Society of Hand Therapists, Author at The Handcare Blog – Page 2 of 7. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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About the Author:
Shelia Tenny is an Occupational Therapist and Certified Hand Therapist. She is passionate about helping those with hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder pain, including arthritis, sprains, strains, fractures, tendon, and nerve injuries. Sheila has certifications in ergonomic assessments in the workplace and ASTYM, which uses specialized handheld tools to manipulate soft tissue to facilitate healing and tissue regeneration.

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