Cold Feet Meaning Poor Circulation in Feet

Cold feet

Key Learning Points

  • Cold Feet – poor circulation in feet – has many causes and Chinese medicine is good at distinguishing between them
  • Cold Hands AND Feet – read on for how this happens!
  • Cold fingers and toes? Yes, that’s here too.
  • Cold feet in women? There’s often a particular explanation for this.

Cold Feet Meaning …

No, we don’t mean the pop group of that name! We mean having poor circulation in feet, feet that feel cold, either to you or your partner!

[By the way … if you’re more interested in cold HANDS, click on COLD HANDS. That page (on cold hands) is more detailed than this page. Some of it also applies to cold feet but I didn’t want to repeat it all here.]

So, as regards your cold feet, you might get

  • cold feet at night
  • cold feet in bed
  • hands and feet always cold
  • cold feet anxiety, meaning that you’re anxious about something, even if your feet don’t feel cold! That’s covered on our page on acupuncture and anxiety.
  • fingers and toes cold
  • cold feet before your period
  • cold feet after covid
  • even with bed socks, cold feet


And you’ve probably been thinking about  getting thermal socks, even heated thermal socks and special cold weather boots, to beat the cold!

So, lots of questions! How does Chinese Medicine explain Cold Feet ie poor circulation in feet?

In 2500 to 3000 years, mostly without central heating, did the ancient Chinese ever get cold feet in their chilly, Northern country? (Northern China in winter is often as cold as North America and Canada!)

If so, what did they do about it – there being not many heated thermal socks in those days! (Though they eventually worked out a primitive form of cold weather boot – for the rich.)

Quite a bit to Read, as you discover Cold Feet!

So settle down for a read. There’s more to this than you might think. If you’re trying to self-diagnose how Chinese medicine diagnoses and then treats your cold feet, you’ll find there is much more than one simple explanation. (And our page on cold HANDS has even more detail.)

I’ve started with the most frequent cause, but as you get into poor circulation in feet you ‘drill’ down to deeper reasons. Some of these you can probably do something about yourself. Some you’ll need treatment for from someone experienced, and it may not be an immediate cure.

But there are usually things you can do to help yourself, and in fact, if you don’t do them, expecting to rely JUST on good treatment to cure you is probably a waste of your time and money.

So what causes cold feet?

This page is about how Chinese medicine explains Cold Feet, so we use ideas from China. Click here for how Western Medicine explains Cold feet.

Yang deficiency

With yang deficiency, your body just doesn’t create enough Heat.  So probably you feel cold in yourself, not just your feet!

Why doesn’t your body create enough Heat? If, when younger, you had warm feet and normally never noticed the cold, what went wrong?

Here are some possible causes:

man holding black barbell. Over-exertion can lead to yang deficiency and cold feet.
Photo by Victor Freitas
  • Physical overwork or over-exertion too often for too long. Athletes! Beware! You often push yourselves harder at your limits! In due course, you may find that unless you are exercising hard, your feet stay cold. Or they stay cold for quite a while even when the rest of you is beginning to feel hot, even dripping with sweat. This is because you’ve exhausted your body’s yang energy renewal system. It may pay you to look at our page on what yin and yang offer man.  Then read the page on balancing yin and yang.
  • Taking too little rest between heavy bouts of exercise. Your car needs  a refill periodically and it usually takes just a few minutes at the pump or charger.  But your body needs, above all, REST, and time to digest the right foods. Your body self-repairs during sleep. If you sleep poorly, click on Insomnia.
  • Repeated, long exposures to Cold, usually from not wearing enough in cold weather. At the time you didn’t notice – perhaps you were young and dressed fashionably! – but done too often and you deplete your Yang energy. You’d be surprised how many young women fall into this category, but young men too!
  • A serious disease can exhaust your yang energy, such as from influenza or Covid 19. This is usually temporary (though even ‘temporary’ can take months to pass).

Specially for Women and their Cold Feet

  • For women, it can be particularly bad if they got chilled feet and legs while having their period because the cold then easily penetrates up into the womb, causing the beginning of Blood stasis there, with onset of cramps and painful blood clots. To understand this more, click on Hot and Cold. There’s also more on Blood stasis below.


The important effect of what you eat on your Cold Feet!

  • Not eating enough cooked, warm food/drink, and eating too much raw, cold or chilled food/drink.
  • Click our pages on Hot Foods and on Cold Foods. Quite a few people with already somewhat poor metabolisms imagine that health will come from eating raw, cold food eg salads and chopped uncooked vegetables. And it’s worse if they stick to this regime during cold weather or winter.
  • What are the other effects of too much cold food? Click on Stomach Cold Invasion to find out!

The effect of your Mind on Cold Feet

  • Being bullied or abused too often without being able to compromise or assert  yourself. This usually causes Qi Stagnation, discussed below, but an early result can be yang deficiency.


A sudden chill and cold feet?

boy in black and white plaid coat

  • Getting a chill. In Chinese medicine this is called an invasion of Wind-Cold. It has a general effect on your circulation, but it doesn’t last long and you’d know why your feet were cold: your body is just going through an acute, short, illness.


Read more about Yang deficiency in general

  • For much more on this, click on our page Yang Deficiency: you’ll discover some of the other symptoms of yang deficiency, including a pale tongue, deep and weak pulse, and white complexion.


What to do about Yang deficiency for your Cold Feet?

If you think yang deficiency is the cause of your cold feet, and you are otherwise young and healthy, you need to slow down, sleep more, improve your diet and – for a while – exercise less.

In other words, give your body time to catch up with the pace you were setting yourself. You need rest!

In the meantime, by all means buy yourself some thermal socks and sturdy cold weather boots. If you continue to wear thin soled shoes without ankle protection you’ll take much longer to cure poor cirulation in feet.

Acupuncturists use needles and moxibustion to treat yang deficiency. They’d also advise on diet and nutrition. Particularly important is avoiding cold foods and eating more warm foods.

Both Cold Feet AND Cold Hands?

By the way, if you get both Hands and Feet cold, then probably your Lung Qi and/or your Heart Yang may be deficient too.

Check out those pages! These are something like the pump on your boiler, pushing hot water round to the radiators in your house. If the pump gets weak it can’t push even good warm water out to the most distant radiators, which in this case are your feet! But with either or both of Lung Qi deficiency and Heart Yang deficiency, the warmth doesn’t get even as far as your hands.

Also, having both cold hands and feet may come from Stomach Cold and Deficient, mentioned below, possibly with Kidney yang deficiency (both of these are summarised under ‘There’s More’ below) and Spleen yang deficiency. Spleen Yang is the active part of your digestion which enables you to absorb nutrients through the walls of your intestines and then enhance the quality of your blood.


Cold Hands and Feet in Women

woman in white dress sitting beside man in black suit

Although the above applies, very often for women with both cold hands and feet, there’s another explanation. It’s due – often – to simple Blood deficiency.

Saying ‘simple’ there is a bit unfair! It’s not simple, and Blood deficiency has many sub-categories of which Liver Blood deficiency is the most frequent cause in women of menstruating age with cold feet. So check that link.

By the way, if women get just cold HANDS, not cold feet, they may have Heart Blood deficiency. But again, they’d have other symptoms which might be more concerning than just their cold hands, such as insomnia and palpitations.

What about Cold Feet before your Period?

Two main possible causes, which could come alone or together. In fact the first, Liver Blood deficiency, makes the second, Liver Qi stagnation, more likely.

There’s More …!

But that’s not the end of Yang deficiency! There are several sub-categories which may fit you more accurately:

  • Stomach Yang deficiency, which is really the same as Stomach Cold and Deficient. The main reasons  you get this are that either you don’t eat enough protein or – and this is usually the main reason – you eat too much cold or cooling-type food. Too much cold food over too long a period eventually douses the yang – heat- you need to digest food. This can lead on to Kidney Yang deficiency (see next paragraph …)
  • Kidney yang deficiency  Kidney yang is a bit like the boiler in your house. If working well in cold weather, the boiler easily overcomes cold and keeps your  house warm and toasty. When the boiler needs to be repaired, your house doesn’t warm up properly in cold weather. Here it’s not the pump, but the heating part of the boiler. In an oil or gas boiler this would be the burner that heats the water. So even if the pump is working well, the water simply doesn’t get hot enough. That means any heat it generates gets used up before it reaches your feet, giving poor circulation in feet.


focus dictionary index page



I hear you say “Dear Oh Dear Oh Dear! Why does he need to use all these long words?”


That’s because each of these long words, these ‘syndromes‘, leads to particular remedies and treatments.


Knowing which syndrome is the problem saves time and unnecessary treatments.


If you like, it makes for faster improvement because you only do the treatment that is necessary and known to work.


If you’re determined to self-diagnose, you have to think a bit like an acupuncturist, asking questions and discarding theories until, like Sherlock Holmes arriving at his conclusion, what remains must be the truth.




Blood deficiency and Cold Feet

This is not exactly the same as anaemia (the Western term for blood deficiency when you have a shortage of red blood cells), but it comes close.

With Blood deficiency from the Chinese medicine point of view, you might also have blurred vision, possibly slight dizziness and your sleep would be poor. Your tongue would be pale.

Chinese medicine is a bit more precise! It finds there are different kinds of Blood deficiency

  • Heart and Spleen Blood deficiency. This can lead on to the next one, Heart Blood deficiency, so it’s worth getting familiar with it. Insomnia is a main symptom, with consequent physical tiredness and the desire to rest and sleep. Frequent causes are too much worry and not eating the right foods. Worry weakens your Spleen energy – your digestion, and the wrong foods further weaken you. Probably your digestion is poor too. Improve your diet, take time to eat and digest food after chewing well: what that means is hurry and worry less!
  • Heart Blood deficiency – with this one, you also get cold hands. With Heart Blood deficiency, you’ll probably also be getting palpitations, tiredness, breathlessness, dizziness, tinnitus and loss of libido.  For much more on this click Heart Blood deficiency.
  • Liver Blood deficiency. Getting coldness in your feet isn’t the first sensation you get with Liver Blood deficiency. More common are numbness and tingling. You’ll need to read the linked page to get to grips with this form of Blood deficiency, and it has many causes. Poor food choices and bad eating habits are only two of the possibilities.

Qi stagnation

This one – qi stagnation – comes about through stress and tension. Emotionally we tighten up. That causes our ‘Liver‘ to stop things moving properly, including our energy and our blood.

You may think this is all nonsense, that your emotions have nothing to do with poor circulaton in feet, but – as they say – follow the money!

Aupuncturists have made fortunes helping people overcome headaches, abdominal cramps and spasms, constipation, sinus problems, general tensions, depression and cramps – to name just a few symptoms! – and cold feet – and all of them can be due to Qi Stagnation!

I guarantee you suffer from qi stagnation, in small ways, almost daily. Usually your body deals with it easily enough, but if it goes on and on? That’s when you start to reach for your thermal socks and cold weather boots!

Too many worries leads to Qi Stagnation which often causes cold feet

If Qi stagnation is the cause, you’d probably be a bit depressed or moody, and be feeling blocked or distension in your upper abdomen or its sides. You might also get a sensation of a lump in your throat.

Stress messes with your metabolism. Impossible targets are a frequent reason. But emotional upsets come next: falling out with a close friend or partner, for instance. And don’t overlook the tension that comes from ‘will s/he, won’t s/he?’!

Anyway, quite apart from its other symptoms, qi stagnation often causes cold feet!

When the emotional cause of it improves, your feet warm up. Also, they usually warm up pretty fast if you get out of breath doing some kind of enjoyable exercise. This pushes qi round your body, yanking blood behind it, overcoming the qi stagnation blockage.

Qi deficiency and Cold Feet

Qi deficiency means tiredness from which your body is slow to recover. Your feet are cold because you are tired.

This is common in the evening or in bed or when you are exhausted. Some good rest, preferably asleep, usually brings warmth back to them.

If you are always tired, there may be various reasons for which read qi deficiency.

Then have a look at how to warm up if you’re always tired and cold.

Blood stasis and Cold Feet

Blood stasis is a frequent cause of cold feet, particularly as you grow older or if you have previously suffered from some serious diseases, surgery or accidents.

It’s not that your heart organ is pumping less vigorously – though that may also be a contributing cause – but that blood just moves more slowly through your tissues than when you were  younger.


As you age, and sometimes after serious disease, surgery or accidents, your capillaries and veins, possibly arteries too, are less elastic and may be ‘furred’ up, so blood just can’t travel freely. Like in household radiators that have accumulated sludge and calcium deposits on inner surfaces, fluids just hang around too long and the movement of water from the pump can’t wash them away. Eventually they ‘fur up’. That inhibits the flow of fresh warm water.

Another way to think of it is like what happens when you bruise yourself. With bruising, body tissues are damaged, and while repairing itself your body swells with a bruise, though which blood moves more slowly, hence the throbbing you feel where it hurts.

By the way, as regards cold feet, the damage may not be in your feet! It could be much further up your legs. Check also for varicose veins, another kind of blood stasis.


Chong mai

A blocked mesh stops blood flowing leading to cold feet

Chong Mai is like a mesh, through which your Blood and your life flow. This is a big subject and not all acupuncturists are familiar with it.

If you didn’t inherit a nice clean mesh with your genes, your Blood won’t flow easily. However, you’d probably notice this before you started getting poor circulation in feet, because you’d have blockages in your abdomen and chest first.

A woman might notice this with heavy or painful menses for example.

Or you might get constrictions in your chest with irregular heart beat and pain or difficulty breathing.

Diagnosing this as the cause of Cold feet might be difficuilt, and would require symptoms in several areas to be sure.

Find out more under Chong Mai symptoms.

Phlegm in your ‘lower burner’

Phlegm is another big subject.

(Your ‘lower burner’ is the part of your abdomen inferior to your umbilicus, ie the part below your belly-button.)

Phlegm here might appear as a lump or growth of some kind, for example a cyst or polyp. It would block the natural flow of blood through the area, impeding blood flow  to your legs, and therefore potentially leading to cold feet.

However, it doesn’t HAVE to be a growth! It could be ‘theoretical’ phlegm there, intangible but, from the point of view of Chinese medicine, behaving as if there were a growth there.

If ‘phlegm’ is the cause, you’d probably also have tingling and/or numbness in your legs or feet, they’d feel heavy, and you’d find it difficult to take a deep breath. Also, your tongue would look swollen.

If phlegm is the cause of your cold feet, what helps it?

Once diagnosed, treating it as if it were phlegm could eventually clear it, leading to better circulation in the legs and reduction in coldness of your feet.

Both acupuncture and herbs might be used, with dietary advice. Daily massage along the channels in your legs, and a regular abdominal massage – if not painful – would help.

Some regular exercise would be important.

But, as I say, phlegm is a big subject. Although there’s lots more about it on this site, my book Yuck! Phlegm! contains far more information and readers say they like it, it’s easy to read and they’ve found it useful.

Jonathan Brand colours

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