The physical cause of trench foot has been uncovered more than 100 years after the painful and debilitating condition was first identified in the First World War.
Non-freezing cold injury, better known as ‘trench foot’ when first described during the First World War, can permanently damage hands and feet, causing chronic pain and long-lasting numbness and tingling sensations. A characteristic feature is that subsequent exposure to cool conditions may lead to a dramatic worsening of symptoms. Severe cases can result in loss of employment and leave individuals limited in their ability to partake in physical activities.
Unlike frostbite, non-freezing cold injury develops after prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, where soft tissue is cooled but not frozen. Although it has long been recognised as a serious medical condition, the underlying cause of the pain and sensory damage, as well as the reason why some individuals are affected and not others exposed to the same conditions, has remained a mystery. It has previously been shown that people of African heritage are considerably more susceptible to the condition than Caucasians.