Trench Foot

The mission is set.  There are 11 days to complete the grueling course of hiking mud bogged trails, swimming in frigid waters, running in complete darkness, scaling down waterfalls,  and more.  The goal is to be the first team to reach the finish line.  Sounds easy enough right?  This is describing the newly released show of The World’s Toughest Race, which can be viewed on Amazon Prime.  One of the biggest challenges to this race that many competitors faced was the result of trench foot.

You see, this course takes place on the island of Fiji.  Beautiful, yes, but this course has your feet exposed to cold weather and spending hours upon hours submerged in water.  There are specific gear on the market designed to help keep your feet dry, but they aren’t perfect, and if you didn’t pack enough dry socks for this race, your feet are in for a rude awakening.

Many of the contestants on the race suffered from varying degrees of trench foot.  Trench foot (or immersion foot) occurs when the foot is unable to dry and is constantly subjected to moisture and cold temperatures.

Think of how your fingers and toes get pruney after a long shower or bath.  Trench foot looks a little like that in the beginning stages, but as it progresses the condition worsens.  The skin on your feet begins to peel off, exposing the sensitive under layer of tissue.  You can experience a tingling or itching sensation, pain, swelling, cold blotches, numbness or have a heavy foot feeling.    If left untreated, it can cause permanent damage to the nerves, muscles, skin, blood vessels, and the development of gangrene is possible along with amputation.

There are quite a few scenes in the show where contestants are examining their feet and you can see the onset of trench foot.  Some contestants even had to be airlifted out of the race because their feet were so painfully bad.

While the immediate effects of trench foot can be alleviated, the condition can lead to long-term tissue damage and chronic pain. A person with trench foot may require long-term follow-up care.  The first step to treating trench foot is to remove the person from the cold wet conditions.  Warming up the feet need to be done slowly.  If the feet are warmed up too quickly, it could cause damage.  Your doctor may prescribe a pain killer depending upon the severity of your condition.  Additional treatment steps include: cleaning and drying the feet, wearing clean socks daily, sleeping with bare feet, elevating feet, and limiting walking and taking an anti-inflammatory.

While completing the race in as few days as possible is certainly a tactic in helping to prevent trench foot, this race is rather grueling, so there are other measures racers should consider to prevent trench foot.

  1. Wear thick wool socks for warmth
  2. Change socks 2 or more times a day and massage your feet
  3. Clean feet and allow to dry completely
  4. Limit water exposure whenever possible
  5. Never sleep in wet socks or shoes
  6. Attend to tingling sensations immediately
  7. Use an antiperspirant or foot powder for your feet
  8. Stay hydrated!

The take away from this race, in regards to preparation and care, is to keep your feet as dry as possible.  The taxing race already puts a lot of strain on your feet, with hours upon hours of hiking and running on top of miles of swimming, rafting, and paddleboarding.  Taking every opportunity to keep your feet dry and prevent them from getting wet is a necessity in preventing the dreaded trench foot.