The implications of Non-Freezing Cold Injury

22 February 2019
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Non-freezing cold injury accounts for many of our military claims and its severity is often overlooked. Our military team consider the causes, symptoms and long-term implications of the condition.

Non-freezing cold injury (NFCI) is an umbrella term for cold environmental injuries documented historically such as ‘trench foot’ and ‘immersion foot’. While measures to prevent NFCI lessen its occurrence and severity, it is the most common non-combat military injury.


Typically found in soldiers, NFCI results from sustained exposure to wet, cold conditions between 0 and 15°C and usually affects the hands and feet. NFCI is different to cold injury, for example frostbite, because tissue does not freeze however sensory implications still occur. When exposed to cold sensitising conditions, military personnel should be warned about the potential effects of NFCI, and appropriately provided for.


In chilblains for example, which routinely develop hours after exposure to cold but non-freezing humid temperatures, a burning or itching sensation arises in areas such as the hands, feet and nose. These symptoms become more intense when transferring from cold to warm temperatures, since blood vessels are narrowing and widening too quickly, unable to handle increased blood flow and causing blood to leak into the surrounding tissue. Sensations of discomfort, numbness and chronic pain may be accompanied by physical changes including redness, blisters and ulcerations.


The last phase of NFCI can last months after the initial injury, at which time persisting long-term symptoms may become apparent, including increased sensitivity to cold. In some cases, this cold sensitisation becomes so severe that individuals are unable to work outside. Persisting water build-up in cavities and tissues is a commonly-occurring consequence, as well as susceptibility to fungal infections and chronic pain. Along with this, ulceration and tissue loss may develop, resulting in limb amputation.

NFCI may have subsequent psychological effects which are equally significant, for example PTSD, depression and anxiety. Whilst situations involving cold, wet conditions may become commonplace, injuries can occur which have significant impacts on service, home life, and post service prospects.

If you are looking for legal advice on a military injury, our specialist lawyers are here to guide you through your available options. Get in touch with our team to see how we can help, by emailing outside of office hours, or calling our freephone number 0800 046 2567 on weekdays between 9am and 5pm.

Please note this article has been provided as information only and should not be regarded as specific advice to your needs.

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