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British Military freezing cold injuries: a 13-year review
  1. Kieran M Heil1,
  2. E H N Oakley2 and
  3. A M Wood3
    1. 1Glasgow University Medical School, Glasgow University, Glasgow, UK
    2. 2Cold Weather Injury Clinic, Institute of Naval Medicine, Gosport, UK
    3. 3Department of Orthopaedics, Institute of Naval Medicine, Gosport, UK
    1. Correspondence to Surg SLt Kieran M Heil; kieranheil{at}


    Introduction Cold injuries have been a recurrent feature of warfare for millennia and continue to present during British Military operations today. Those affecting the peripheries are divided into freezing cold injury (FCI) and non-FCI. FCI occurs when tissue fluids freeze at around −0.5°C and is commonly referred to as frostnip or frostbite.

    Method All FMED7 notes held at the Institute of Naval Medicine's Cold Weather Injury Clinic (CIC) from 2002 to 2014 were searched for the terms ‘frostbite’ and ‘frostnip’ and then analysed to identify common themes.

    Results In total 245 results were found and from these, 149 patients with a positive FCI diagnosis were identified and formed the cohort of this study. Royal Marines (RM) represented over 50% of patients and Arctic training in Norway accounted for over two thirds of the total cases. The extremities were almost always those areas which were affected by FCI. Further analysis of the RM cases showed the majority of those injured were of the most junior rank (Marine/Private or Lance Corporal).

    Conclusions A lack of supporting climatic and activity data meant that it was difficult to draw additional conclusions from the data collected. In future, a greater emphasis should be placed on collection of climatic and additional data when FCIs are diagnosed. These data should be collated at the end of each deployment and published as was regularly done historically. It is hoped that these data could then be used as the starting point for an annual climatic study day, where issues related to FCIs could be discussed in a Tri-Service environment and lessons learned disseminated around all British Forces personnel.

    • Cold
    • Frostbite
    • Freezing
    • Mountaineering
    • Military Medicine

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    • Collaborators A Brown, R Milner.

    • Contributors KMH: lead author and researcher; EHNO, AMW: authors.

    • Competing interests None declared.

    • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.