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If you read old books from cold areas, it's not infrequent to run across the idea of rubbing snow on one's feet when they got frozen or frostbitten. However, subjectively, it seems to me that this would only make the wounds worse. Having lived my whole life in places where it gets cold, the best way I know of taking care of frostbite is to warm up the member.

Was there any logic behind this practice? Is this method encouraged / discouraged by modern medicine?

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    "Until the 1950’s frostbite treatment consisted of rubbing snow over the affected area. However in 1956, Merryman disproved this treatment intervention. He instead encouraged the public health service medical officer in Tanana, Alaska to try rapid re-warming, with great success--Hence, the beginning of a new and effective treatment for frostbite." Survive Outdoors, Inc. But this doesn't answer the question of "Why". We can all agree that rubbing with snow is not a good treatment for frostbite, but Why did people think it was? – ab2 Apr 3 '17 at 18:37
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    I read somewhere that it is not a good idea to warm up the frozen extremities unless you are warm yourself, as it cools your core further by circulating the cold blood. Maybe snow rubbing delays the warming of the frostbite, giving time to the rest of the body to move away from hypothermia? – njzk2 Apr 3 '17 at 18:44
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    @njzk2 While it can be harmful when cold blood from extremities rushes towards the core, this is mainly an issue for progressed general hypothermia. This is distinct from frostbite (while it obviously can occur at the same time). Also there is no reason to further cool/isolate body parts in such a situation, you just shouldn't move them to prevent sudden blood circulation. Related: outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/10452/… – imsodin Apr 3 '17 at 19:14
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Was there any logic behind this practice (rubbing frostbite with snow)? Is this method encouraged / discouraged by modern medicine?

According to Hypothermia, Frostbite and Other Cold Injuries: Prevention, Survival, Rescue ... By Gordon G. Giesbrecht, James A. Wilkerson, the treatment gained popularity in the Napoleonic Wars because

rapid rewarming from open campfires or other sources of dry heat caused so much devastation.....Dry heat from ....open fires....cannot be controlled. Excessively high temperatures are usually produced, resulting in a combined burn and frostbite, a devasting injury that leads to far greater tissue loss.

This treatment is not advocated by modern medicine. According to Survive Outdoors, Inc:

Until the 1950’s frostbite treatment consisted of rubbing snow over the affected area. However in 1956, Merryman disproved this treatment intervention. He instead encouraged the public health service medical officer in Tanana, Alaska to try rapid re-warming, with great success--Hence, the beginning of a new and effective treatment for frostbite.

Edit in response to comment from @imsodin, who said "rapid re-warming could be misinterpreted". True. The Mayo Clinic site says:

Gently rewarm frostbitten areas. Soak hands or feet in warm water — 99 to 108 F (37 to 42 C) — for 15 to 30 minutes. If a thermometer isn't available, test the water by placing an uninjured hand or elbow in it — it should feel very warm, not hot.

The Mayo Clinic site also says:

Don't rub the affected area and never rub snow on frostbitten skin.

Thus, not only rubbing with snow, but rubbing with anything, is a no-no for frostbite. Rubbing will further damage already damaged tissues.

Caveat: This answer does not attempt to describe the proper treatment of frostbite; for that, see What are the different stages of frostbite?. The excerpt from the Mayo Clinic addresses only the proper temperature for rewarming; the entire process is more complicated and rewarming in the field is not always the best course.

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    "Don't expose numb skin to fire" sounds much less silly than "rub snow on your cold parts." – user8348 Apr 3 '17 at 21:13
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    @not store bought dirt It is not as silly as it sounds, given the state of medicine and science at the time. Benjamin Thompson published his work on heat and friction in 1798. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Thompson). Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812. And remember that blood-letting was considered a remedy for all sorts of things until the late 18th century. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloodletting – ab2 Apr 3 '17 at 21:32

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