For most people, small foot injuries like calluses or blisters are a minor nuisance. Though they are sore, you know that with a little TLC and some over-the-counter medications, they will usually heal in a short amount of time. However, if you are diabetic, these small wounds can grow into major problems.
“The average person will unconsciously change the way they walk to minimize that callus forming, because for many people it hurts,” explains Marc House, DPM, a podiatrist at the Podiatry Associates of Indiana, Foot & Ankle Institute in Indianapolis. “With diabetes, you don’t feel it, so you continue to walk on the area.”
Foot facts for diabetics:
- Diabetes can damage nerves in the feet, so many people with diabetes don’t have normal sensation in their feet.
- Diabetes can lead to narrowed arteries in the legs, causing poor blood flow to the feet.
- Minor wounds may heal poorly and become infected as a result of the reduced blood flow.
Every year thousands of lower-limb amputations, including foot removal surgeries, are performed on people with diabetes due to nerve and circulation issues. So, taking care of your feet is extremely important if you’re a diabetic.
Here are some important steps you can take to care for your feet:
- Inspect your feet daily. Stay on the lookout for signs of possible trouble such as red spots, blisters, and cuts. If you can’t see the bottoms of your feet, lay a mirror on the floor and use it to inspect your soles. Let your doctor know if you notice any sores or cuts on your feet that don’t heal within a day or two.
- Wash your feet every day with mild soap and lukewarm water. Make sure the water isn’t too hot (over 90 degrees F). Pat them dry after washing and be sure to dry between your toes to minimize the risk of fungal infections.
- After washing and drying your feet, use lotion or petroleum jelly to keep the skin smooth — but don’t put it between your toes. Non-medicated powder can also help keep your feet dry.
- When trimming your nails, but your toenails straight across to help prevent ingrown nails. Be sure to file your toenails, too, so they aren’t sharp on the corners. Consult your doctor to be sure it’s safe for you to cut your own nails.
- Never walk barefoot. That goes for inside and outside. Always feel inside your shoes with your fingers before you put them on to make sure a sharp object isn’t hiding inside.
- Keep them warm. If your feet get cold, put on warm socks. Avoid using heating pads on your feet — they may burn you.
- Get a check-up. Ask a health care provider to check your feet at every visit.
- Use a pumice stone. If your doctor says it’s okay, use a pumice stone to treat calluses. Never use a sharp blade on your feet.
- Wear the right shoes and socks. Buy shoes that have plenty of support, but are not too tight. Also choose shoes made of material that breathes and look for a cushioned sole to absorb pressure. Also be sure to wear clean, lightly cushioned socks at all times to prevent blisters. Avoid sandals, high heels, flip-flops and shoes with open or pointed toes. Ask your doctor if you need special shoes or inserts that are fitted to your feet.
- Control your blood sugar. As with most diabetes complications, you’re less likely to have foot problems if you aggressively manage your blood sugar. Work closely with your doctor to keep your blood sugar under control.
- Don’t smoke. You probably already know that smoking is bad for your heart and lungs, but you may not know that it also decreases blood flow to your feet — increasing the risk of sores and infection. Ask your doctor for tips to help you quit.
- Wiggle your toes. And move your feet around many times a day to keep the blood flowing. Avoid standing in one position for a long time or sitting with your legs crossed. These can block blood flow to your feet.
Having diabetes can cause serious damage to your feet, but that doesn’t mean you’re destined to have foot problems. Just be sure to manage your blood sugar wisely, avoid smoking, wear proper shoes, exercise regularly and have your feet checked regularly by your doctor to prevent long-term complications.