Non-Freezing Cold Injury vs Raynaud’s Syndrome | Bolt Burdon Kemp Non-Freezing Cold Injury vs Raynaud’s Syndrome | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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Non-Freezing Cold Injury vs Raynaud’s Syndrome

With the temperature dropping across the U.K. as we enter the winter months, it can be a very challenging time for service personnel and veterans with non-freezing cold injury. Why? Because the cold weather can exacerbate cold injury symptoms and can worsen the injury if they are exposed to further cold weather!

Non-Freezing Cold Injury (NFCI), which is also known as ‘Trench Foot’ is caused by long periods of exposure in cold and wet conditions that result from the skin tissue cooling and causing damage to the nerves. Most commonly, to the extremities of the fingertips and toes. The injury can be made worse with further exposure to cold conditions. This makes it extremely difficult for individuals suffering from this injury, who have to modify their lives and work to avoid further injury.

This is quite a common injury for service personnel as they spend a great deal of time outdoors on training exercises in various locations in the UK and Europe throughout the year. Many of the exercises involve being on stag duty, building trenches, and waiting for hours under scrapes in cold, wet and sometimes snowy conditions in the early hours of the morning when temperatures drop to freezing.

In many cases, we have found that personnel suffering with these types of injuries have often been mistaken for having Raynaud’s Syndrome.

What is Raynaud’s?

Raynaud’s Syndrome affects the blood circulation. It is where the body reacts to certain situations causing cold and numbness to the hands and feet. The symptoms are similar to those seen in non-freezing cold injury:


Non-freezing cold Injury Raynaud’s Syndrome  
Pain Cold fingers and toes
Numbness Numbness
Pins and needles Skin discolouration i.e., fingers and toes turn white or blue upon further cold or stress
Colour changes Upon rewarming skin colour changes to red with throbbing pain
Burning sensation upon rewarming


Unlike Raynaud’s, a non-freezing cold injury is caused by exposure to the cold. A NFCI is however completely avoidable, and there are specific rules and procedures within the military which ought to be followed for this very reason.

Unfortunately, however, we are often approached by personnel who have suffered NFCI due to failures, such as: –

  • Being provided with inadequate kit to protect them from the elements
  • Working and sleeping in cold conditions for long periods of time without access to facilities to rewarm or opportunities to change into dry clothing;
  • Failing to act on complaints of well recognised NFCI symptoms;
  • Inadequate training on recognising and acting upon NFCI symptoms and the possible long term consequences;
  • Failing to refer individuals for medical advice and insisting they remain in cold conditions despite reporting symptoms of NFCI

In comparison, Raynaud’s occurs spontaneously and can be hereditary as it is related to genetics. It is a condition which affects blood circulation which causes fingers and toes to feel cold. They may also change colour and in some cases cause skin to turn blue from blood vessel reaction.

Although Raynaud’s syndrome and NFCI offer similar symptoms on the surface, it is important to seek medical attention if you have been exposed to cold weather conditions because an NFCI can lead to a severe injury if the affected area keeps being exposed to cold and wet conditions.

The effects of an NFCI are not often visible. As the injury affects the nerve endings and individuals with this condition will often experience symptoms in the associated area such as: –

  • Tingling sensations
  • Cold and numbness
  • Dexterity issues
  • Pain upon rewarming, such as being under warm/hot water or going into a warmer climate after being out in cold weather

More severe injuries can lead to neuropathic pain problems.

Military personnel also often face medical discharge as it can be difficult to find alternative suitable employment where further cold exposure can be avoided.

The effects of NFCI can be difficult to explain to people who are not familiar with the condition. This can in turn effect an individual’s mental health. It can lead to isolation, low mood and development of a psychiatric condition.

If you have sustained a cold injury and have been diagnosed with NFCI or Raynaud’s syndrome, speak to a member of our team who will be happy to have confidential discussion about whether you have a claim.

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