Returning to training after mild frostbite on big toe

  • Creator
  • #62077

    Hi all –

    I just returned from a winter trip in Maine and I have what appears to be (self-diagnosed) mild/superficial/1st or 2nd degree frostbite on my right big toe. The exposure came on the last full day while submitting a nearby peak (hiking with snowshoes and microspikes, nothing technical). I unfortunately had to ski out ~6 miles on the toe the following day. My feet stayed warm that day so I don’t think there was further damage from the cold, but the pressure on the toe probably wasn’t ideal for recovery.

    I have been reading online that the extent of tissue damage from mild frostbite often is not immediately clear and it can take weeks or months to know whether the tissue will make a full recovery (or whether new tissue will come in underneath). It’s been 48 hrs since I’ve returned and I’ve attached a picture below of the toe to give folks a visual. Blister with clear fluids has started to come down a bit but it’s still larger than normal and there is still some local numbness.

    Rather than looking for a diagnosis, I am curious about any experiences with knowing when to return to training (road running, nordic and downhill skiing) after this type of injury. I have found little information online. Can I start putting pressure/stress on the tow once the blister has fully gone down and full feeling has returned? Or do I risk doing further damage to the tissue and decreasing the likelihood of a full recovery? How to know when to return to training seems tricky and I’m flying blind at the moment. I’m in a smaller town and am uncertain of any sports medicine expertise locally.

    Many thanks,


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Posted In: Injury & Rehab

  • Moderator
    MarkPostle on #62133

    Elliot, Just one voice here but I have seen my share of frostbite and recovery over the years. Looking at the pic it does seem like you nipped it pretty good and will probably take a bit to tell the full recovery timeline as you mention. I would avoid much direct pressure or certainly any further cold exposure until the healing is much farther along. We know that repeat injury to frost bitten tissue is quite harmful and tissue with a history of frostbite is at higher risk for injury than uninjured tissue. As time progresses this will likely get less so but can take months or sometimes years until its fully resolved. You’ll know more as it progresses but this is one instance where you can really do yourself a favor in being conservative during the initial healing. Hope this helps.

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