If you have diabetes, you are more prone to foot problems–ranging from relatively minor sores that don’t heal properly to severe conditions that may lead to amputation.
Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to nerve damage, circulation problems and infections, which contribute to serious foot problems. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), foot problems are one of the reasons why 1 in 5 people with diabetes seek hospital care.
Some of the foot and related problems that diabetic people are more prone to are:
- Burning, tingling or painful feet.
- Loss of sensitivity to heat or cold.
- Changes in the color or shape of the feet.
- Loss of hair on the legs.
- Thickening and yellowing of the toenails.
- Red spots, blisters, sores, ulcers, skin infections, infected corns or ingrown toenails.
In serious cases, foot problems can lead to amputation. About 73,000 non-traumatic lower-limb amputations were performed in adults age 20 or older with diabetes in 2010, according to the ADA.
However, you can take precautions to maintain healthy feet and prevent any serious problem.
Here are the top 10 foot care tips for diabetics.
1. Check Your Feet Every Day
No matter how healthy your feet look, it is important to closely inspect your feet daily, including the tops, sides, soles, heels and the area between the toes.
Even small sores or blisters can become big problems if an infection develops or they do not heal properly. Hence, check your feet every day for dry or cracked skin, red spots, cuts, swelling and blisters. For the bottoms of your feet, you can use a mirror or ask others for help.
Consult your doctor immediately if you discover any sores, redness, cuts, blisters or bruises.
2. Wash and Dry Properly
For proper foot care, regular washing and cleaning is a must. This will help keep your feet free of germs and other impurities, which can otherwise lead to infection.
Wash your feet every day in lukewarm water with mild soap. Avoid using hot water and harsh soaps, as they can damage your skin. Check the water temperature with your fingers or elbow, as diabetes may make it difficult to sense the water temperature with your feet.
Gently use a pumice stone to remove corns and calluses, after a shower or bath when your skin is soft.
After you are done washing your feet, dry them thoroughly, especially between the toes. Then, to keep your skin soft and smooth, rub a thin coat of skin lotion over the tops and bottoms of your feet, but not between your toes.
3. Cut Toenails Straight Across
Whether you have diabetes or not, always cut your toenails straight across.
Trim your toenails after washing your feet, when your nails are soft. Cut straight across to help prevent ingrown toenails. Use an emery board to smooth out the edges.
Be careful not to cut your toenails too short or into the corners. Do not touch the cuticles.
If you can’t see or reach your feet due to visual difficulty or nerve problems, ask a family memberor a podiatrist to cut your toenails for you.
4. Wear Proper Shoes and Socks
Those who are diabetic should wear shoes and socks at all times. But be sure to wear the right ones.
- Wear comfortable shoes that fit well. Shoes should have plenty of room, especially in the toe area.
- The lining of the inside of the shoes should be smooth, and there should be no objects inside.
- Avoid wearing shoes made out of plastic or other materials that do not allow your feet to breathe. Choose shoes made of leather, canvas or suede.
- Do not wear thong sandals, flip-flops, pointed-toe and open-toe shoes, or very high heels.
- Wear clean, dry socks or non-binding pantyhose for extra protection.
- Change your socks daily.
- Wear special shoes if your doctor recommends them.
5. Don’t Go Barefoot
Even though walking barefoot has many benefits, people who have diabetes should avoid it.
Never walk barefoot, especially in the garden or on the beach, to avoid cuts. In fact, when walking outside, you must try to wear shoes with good coverage.
Not just outside, you must avoid walking barefoot around the house too, as it can cause sores or injuries that can get infected.
6. Try Non-Impact Exercise
Being more active will help keep your blood sugar level under control. But when you have diabetes and foot problems, you must plan your exercise regimen carefully.
In fact, it is recommended to opt for exercises that have minimal impact on your feet as putting too much pressure on your feet can increase the risk of developing corns and calluses. Hence, exercises like, swimming, cycling, yoga and tai chi are some good options that you can try.
Aerobics programs that include bouncing, jumping and leaping are not the best activities for your feet, especially if you have neuropathy. It is always best to talk with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
7. Get Regular Checkups
It is your doctor who can provide you with the right information and treatment regarding foot problems and tips on how to take care of your feet.
Your doctor should examine your feet at every visit and do a thorough foot exam once a year. If you have a history of foot problems, you may need more frequent visits.
Do not delay in making an appointment with your doctor if you notice any problems, such as cracking between the toes, sores or wounds on your feet, ingrown toenails, numbness or pain in your feet, calluses, or redness or blackening of the skin.
Diabetes-related foot problems can worsen very quickly, making them more difficult to treat.
8. Increase Blood Supply
Poor blood circulation can affect the blood supply to your feet. Due to reduced blood supply, even small cuts and sores may take a long time to heal.
To keep an adequate blood supply to your feet, taking a brisk walk for 10 minutes every 2 to 3 hours is a must.
When sitting, put your feet up and wiggle your toes from time to time. Also, avoid sitting with your legs crossed or standing in one position for long periods of time.
If you have poor circulation and lack of sensitivity to heat, do not use a heating pad or hot water bottle to improve blood flow to your feet. You could burn your skin without realizing it.
9. Control Blood Sugar Level
No matter how much you take care of your feet, all your efforts will go in vain if your blood sugar level is not under control. Hence, it is important to keep your blood sugar level in your target range.
In fact, it is the best way to prevent diabetic complications and foot problems.
A 2006 study published in the Annals of Family Medicine found that a significant proportion of adults with undiagnosed diabetes have signs of nephropathy and peripheral neuropathy. These findings suggest that early screening for diabetes and proper management can help a lot.
For managing your diabetes, opt for regular medical exams, daily monitoring of your blood sugar, regular exercise, eating a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and so on.
10. Quit Smoking
Smoking affects your body from head to toe, hence if you have diabetes it’s time to quit.
Smoking leads to reduced blood flow to your feet. Proper blood flow is needed to keep your feet healthy and fight infections. The reduced level of nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood can seriously worsen foot and leg problems.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that smoking may be associated with an increased risk of diabetic peripheral neuropathy. However, it is still not clear whether smoking cessation reduces that risk in adults with diabetes.
Talk to your doctor if you need help quitting.