Trench foot

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Immersion foot
Case of trench feet suffered by unidentified soldier Cas de pieds des tranchées (soldat non identifié).jpg
Trench foot as seen on an unidentified soldier during World War I
Classification and external resources
Specialty Emergency medicine
ICD-10 T69.0
ICD-9-CM 991.4
DiseasesDB 31219

Trench foot is a medical condition caused by prolonged exposure of the feet to damp, unsanitary, and cold conditions. It is one of many immersion foot syndromes. The use of the word trench in the name of this condition is a reference to trench warfare, mainly associated with World War I which started in 1914.

Signs and symptoms[edit]

Affected feet may become numb, affected by erythema (turning red) or cyanosis (turning blue) as a result of poor blood supply, and feet may begin to have a decaying odor due to the possibility of the early stages of tissue death setting in. As the condition worsens, feet may also begin to swell. Advanced trench foot often involves blisters and open sores, which lead to fungal infections; this is sometimes called tropical ulcer (jungle rot).

If left untreated, trench foot usually results in gangrene, which can cause the need for amputation. If trench foot is treated properly, complete recovery is normal, though it is marked by severe short-term pain when feeling returns.


Unlike frostbite, trench foot does not require freezing temperatures and can occur in temperatures up to 16° Celsius (about 60° Fahrenheit). The condition can occur within as few as thirteen hours.[1] The mechanism of tissue damage is not fully understood. Excessive sweating or hyperhidrosis has long been regarded as a contributory cause, also unsanitary, cold and wet conditions can cause trench foot.[2]


Trench foot can be prevented by keeping the feet clean, warm, and dry. It was also discovered in World War I that a key preventive measure was regular foot inspections. Soldiers would be paired and each made responsible for the feet of the other. They would generally apply whale oil to prevent trench foot. If left to their own devices, soldiers might neglect to take off their own boots and socks to dry their feet each day, but if it were the responsibility of another this became less likely.[3] Later on in the war, instances of trench foot began to decrease, probably as a result of the introduction of wooden duckboards to cover the muddy, wet, cold ground of the trenches, and of the increased practice of troop rotation, which kept soldiers from prolonged time at the front.[citation needed]


Trench foot was first noted in Napoleon's army in 1812. It was during the retreat from Russia that it became prevalent, and was first described by French army surgeon Dominique Jean Larrey.[4]

It was a particular problem for soldiers in trench warfare during the winters of World War I,[5] World War II, and the Vietnam War.

Trench foot made a reappearance in the British Army during the Falklands War in 1982.[6] The causes were the cold, wet conditions and insufficiently waterproof DMS boots.

Some people were even reported to have developed trench foot at the 1998 and 2007 Glastonbury Festivals, the 2009 and 2013 Leeds Festivals as well as the 2012 Download Festival, as a result of the sustained cold, wet, and muddy conditions at the events.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "CHRONIC TRENCH FOOT: A STUDY OF 100 CASES". 1951-05-01. Retrieved 2011-10-20. 
  3. ^ Bullets, Boots and Bandages, presented by Saul David, BBC Four, February 2012, episode 1/3.
  4. ^ Régnier C (2004). "Etiological argument about the Trench Foot". Hist Sci Med (in French) 38 (3): 315–32. PMID 15617178. 
  5. ^ Atenstaedt RL (2006). "Trench foot: the medical response in the first World War 1914-18". Wilderness Environ Med 17 (4): 282–9. doi:10.1580/06-WEME-LH-027R.1. PMID 17219792. 
  6. ^ Chris Ryan (April 28, 2010). "Chris Ryan: I’m not sure I could deal with Afghanistan". London: The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved April 28, 2010. 
  7. ^ "I got trench foot at Glastonbury". BBC News. June 23, 2008. Retrieved May 26, 2010.