Non-Freezing Cold Injury: The invisible enemy
At Bolt Burdon Kemp we act for many clients who bring compensation claims after suffering a non-freezing cold injury (NFCI) during their service. This blog helps to explain what these injuries are and I hope helps to answer some of your questions.
Non-Freezing Cold Injuries (NFCI’s) happen when you are exposed to cold and/or wet conditions for a long time. For military personnel, this can happen during outdoor training exercises and promotional courses. These injuries can also occur as a result of repeated cold exposure over time, for example when on regular guard duty.
NFCI’s mainly affect the hands and feet. If you have suffered an NFCI you might experience a range of unpleasant symptoms, such as:
- Cold hands and feet
- Excessive sweating
These symptoms are usually triggered by environmental factors, such as cold weather or a change in temperature, which makes it difficult to predict and control the condition.
For more details about the causes and symptoms of NFCI, please see my colleague’s helpful introductory blog here.
The nature of the work undertaken by our Armed Forces means that service personnel can be regularly exposed to cold and wet conditions. If they are not given proper protective equipment then this can lead to a NFCI.
If you are diagnosed with an NFCI this may affect your career and lead to medical discharge, depending on how severe the injury is. Transitioning to Civvy Street can be challenging. This process can involve finding a new job, new house, new schools, new friends and a new identity at a time when you are adjusting to the pain and disability of a long-term injury.
Hidden NFCI symptoms
One of the most significant symptoms of a NFCI is pain, usually in the hands and feet. This happens because the cold exposure may have damaged your nerves and/or blood vessels. If this pain does not improve then it can become ‘chronic’, meaning ‘long term’. In fact, chronic pain is reported in more than 70% of cases of NFCI. This can have a massive impact on your quality of life, particularly during the colder months.
After acting for many personnel who have suffered with NFCI, I have noticed that the injury can also affect their mental health. Some of my clients have suffered depression and anxiety after their injuries. They are left with real limitations on their lives, often choosing to remain indoors as much as possible so as to avoid making their injuries worse. They then start to miss out on social events, seeing friends and family. This can affect their relationships and leave them feeling very isolated.
Some clients may also need the input of an occupational therapist, who will help them return to work, or some other form of emotional support or counselling, to help them come to terms with their injury. The cost of therapy can be factored into a claim for compensation.
Making NFCI a visible injury
Even today, knowledge and understanding of NFCI’s is lacking, despite the fact that it can be a very serious, often long-term injury. I think this may be because sufferers don’t appear any different on the outside. But the reality is that they may be suffering a great deal.
I have learnt a lot about this injury through hearing the experiences of my clients and I am continually amazed by the way they and their families support each other. I have also seen how compensation can rebuild the lives of those affected by this injury and feel passionately about helping people get the compensation they deserve.