My neighbor looked at me in disbelief, exclaiming nasally through congested sinuses, “I want to feel better, not to get trench foot!” I smiled and shrugged, gently suggesting that he could remove the wet socks if they made him miserable but that I thought they would help with his head cold. Six months passed before I received a text message reading, “Did the socks. They worked. Should have tried them sooner.” Fortunately, most of my patients are more willing than this friend was to try the water therapy we refer to as “Naturopathic Tylenol”, and they are consistently glad they did.
“Warming Socks,” as we call them today, are one of the most simple, effective, wide-reaching Nature Cure therapies available for your at-home health toolkit. Useful for fevers, sore throats, stuffy noses, teething babies, upper respiratory infections, headaches, sleep difficulties and more, the “Wet Sock Treatment” (as it was better known in a time when the benefits of cold water were more highly regarded) is an important first-line therapy to boost immune system function and reduce congestion of vital organs—a necessary naturopathic step if we are to build health and prevent disease.
Because this therapy works with the basic physiology of the human body–our natural response to temperature change–it is helpful for all ages and individuals of all health conditions. Better yet? It requires only what is already in your dresser drawers, plus a trip to the bathroom sink.
The basic concept is this: application of cold water to warm feet causes blood to first flow away from the skin, and then to flood back into the feet, warming them up. This process takes only 60-90 seconds, having in this time stimulated microcirculation throughout the body. More circulation means more nutrients in, more waste products out, and better distribution of body fluids. Achieving this through the microvascular system, rather than by increasing your heart rate, pulls blood into the muscles and skin and out of areas of stagnation—like your clogged up sinuses.
Individuals who use this treatment typically sleep better than usual, waking up feeling less congested, more energized and on their way to getting well. Parents remark that a days-long fever finally breaks with use of the Warming Socks, or a low, inefficient fever becomes an effective one. Teething babies will sleep through the night. Cough attacks are reduced. Families use this treatment to keep healthy family members vital when a virus is rearing its head. And, many of my patients bring the socks on travel—not just for airplane-caught illness, but to help fight jet lag!
How To Use Warming Socks
This application is typically done at bedtime. With feverish children, it may be done during a nap or cozy, covered up, rest time on the couch and repeated in the evening. You will need a pair of thin cotton socks, a pair of thick wool socks, and access to cold water. In the absence of wool socks, thick hiking socks or polar fleece also gets the job done. Note: Do not apply this therapy over large wounds on the feet, and use caution with individuals who have impaired sensation in their feet. As always, it is good to consult with your naturopathic doctor before beginning a new therapy.
- As you get ready for bed, warm your feet by wiggling your toes and moving your ankles. If your feet will not warm up, you can rub them or put them into a warm foot bath.
- Soak the thin cotton socks in cold water. For most of North America, water from the cold tap is perfect. In the summertime, it may be necessary to use a bowl of tap water with ice cubes added in order to have cold water.
- Wring the wet cotton socks out very well.
- As you climb into bed, put the cold, wet socks on your warm feet. Put the thick, dry socks on over the top of the wet ones. Quickly snuggle down under warm covers. Rest.
Your feet will feel cold for a moment, but should warm up soon. If your feet are cold and miserable after 10 minutes, something went wrong: your socks were too wet, your feet were too cold, or your socks were not cold enough. Take off the socks, re-warm your feet, and try again. Most people fall into a restful sleep relatively quickly and sleep well through the night. If you wake up with hot feet at any point, remove the socks and go back to sleep. If you do not fall asleep within 15-20 minutes but your body has warmed the socks so they are warm to the touch, you can remove them and call it a success.
For small or stubborn children, socks can be applied after they are sleeping. Speaking soothingly with plenty of shhhh’s, most parents find they can get the socks in place and the child back to sleep without difficulty. After one or two applications it is not uncommon for children to requestthe therapy at bedtime!
This treatment is best repeated for consecutive nights, from first signs of illness unless all symptoms are gone. As with all hydrotherapy (water therapy) treatments, anyhydro is better than no hydro, so give it a try, even if you might not be able to do it again.