You may have heard that diabetes can lead to foot problems. It can be tempting to ignore your feet, but diabetes can be hard on the feet over time because high blood glucose levels may lead to neuropathy, or nerve damage. Nerve damage can make your feet numb. So you may not feel a small cut or a tight-fitting shoe that can lead to calluses, blisters, or other wounds. Such wounds can get infected and be slow to heal, especially if you have high blood sugar levels and poor blood flow in your feet and legs.
Most people can prevent any serious foot problems and keep feet feeling their best by following these simple steps:
- Check your feet every day.
Look for calluses, blisters, scaling (dry skin), cracks in the skin (especially between toes and on your heels), redness, and swelling. If you can’t turn your leg to see the bottom of your foot, try placing a magnifying mirror on the floor and hold your foot above it to check the bottom for trouble spots, or ask someone for help.
Neuropathy can result in both pain and loss of sensation in your feet. When you can’t feel pain, you won’t feel a wound forming (that’s why daily checks are so important!).
- Wash your feet every day and moisturize. Cut nails carefully.
After washing your feet in lukewarm water (not hot!), dry them carefully, especially between the toes. You can avoid dry skin and cracking by using a thick moisturizer on your feet. Rub it in well, but don’t put it between your toes—those dark, moist areas are great hosts for infection.
Cut nails straight across and file the edges. Don’t cut nails too short, as this could lead to ingrown toe nails. Have a foot doctor trim your toenails if you cannot see or feel your feet, if you cannot reach your feet, if your toenails are thick or yellowed, or if your nails curve and grow into the skin.
- Wear shoes that fit your feet and don’t go barefoot. Don’t forget socks!
Wear comfortable shoes that fit well and protect your feet. Wearing shoes that rub or pinch makes it more likely for a blister or wound to form. Look for a snug but not tight shoe fit, with room to wiggle your toes. For hard-to-fit feet or if you already have foot problems, you may need therapeutic shoes. Ask your doctor about Medicare and other insurance coverage for special shoes. Walking/athletic shoes are good for daily wear. They support your feet and allow them to “breath”. Avoid vinyl or plastic shoes because they do not stretch or breath. Avoid shoes with pointed toes or high heels as they put too much pressure on your toes. And buy shoes at the end of the day when your feet are the largest so that you can find the best fit.
Check inside your shoes before wearing them. Make sure the lining is smooth and there are no objects inside. If you keep your shoes in the garage or outside, look to make sure no spiders or other critters have taken refuge in the warmth of your shoes!
Wear clean, dry socks and change them daily. Avoid tight elastic bands (they reduce circulation). Don’t wear thick or bulky socks as they can fit poorly and irritate the skin.
- Protect your feet from hot and cold and don’t go barefoot!
Never walk barefoot! Wear shoes at the beach or on hot pavement. Don’t put your feet into hot water. Test water before putting your feet in it just as you would before bathing a baby. Never use hot water bottles, heating pads, or electric blankets. You can burn your feet without realizing it. If your feet get cold at night, wear socks. Be sure to wear proper foot wear in the winter months to prevent frost bite and don’t let your feet get wet in snow or rain.
- Show your feet to your health care provider at every office visit.
Ask your doctor to look at your feet at every visit. Take your shoes and socks off once you are in the exam room. Your health care provider should perform a complete foot exam at least annually – more often if you have foot problems. This exam should include checking the sense of feeling and pulses. Call your doctor right away if a cut, blister, or bruise on your foot does not begin to heal after a few days.
- Keep the blood flowing to your feet.
Poor circulation means you won’t get enough blood flow to heal wounds, so it will take longer to get well. Some signs of poor circulation include weak pulses in your feet or legs, shiny and hairless skin, and discolored skin.
Put your feet up when you are sitting. Wiggle your toes for 5 minutes, 2 or 3 times a day. Move your ankles up and down and in and out to help blood flow in your feet and legs. Don’t cross your legs for long periods of time.
Don’t smoke. Smoking restricts blood flow in your feet.
- Try to hit your blood glucose targets
High blood glucose levels can lead to slow-healing foot wounds and slow the body’s ability to fight infection. High sugar in the blood acts like a food source for the bacteria in infections, making them become more powerful and spread more quickly!
- Get help for open wounds
Don’t risk your health! Get treatment for foot wounds as soon as possible. Visit your physician or a podiatrist, a doctor specializing in foot care, if you have an open cut, blister, or sore on your foot that isn’t healing. Do not try to treat yourself with over-the-counter antibiotic ointments.
If you take care of your feet every day, you can lower your chances of losing a toe, foot or leg. Begin taking care of your feet today!