Special Foot Care for People who have Diabetes

Diabetes and daily routines go hand-in-hand. If you have diabetes, you should eat balanced meals, monitor your blood sugar, stay physically active and find time to relax each day. But there’s something else you should do: Take care of your feet!

You may think of diabetes as a blood sugar problem – and you’re right. But diabetes can cause nerve and blood vessel damage in your feet called neuropathy. It’s a health complication that can lead to diminished feeling in your feet.

Neuropathy that’s caused by diabetes affects more than 70 percent of people who have diabetes. If you have neuropathy that’s caused by diabetes, you may not notice sunburn, hot sand or hot pavement, while others would react with pain. You also may not feel irritations from sandals or tight shoes, or rocks and sharp objects on walking trails.

Diabetes also makes it harder for your body to fight infections. Not noticing – and not treating – burns, irritations, scrapes and other sores on your feet can lead to infections, which can be dangerous for people who have diabetes. Infections can cause your blood glucose levels to spike, and they can lengthen your healing process. In extreme cases, it can lead to amputation.

Fortunately, people who have diabetes can often prevent serious foot wounds by taking a few precautions.

Here's what you can do to help prevent foot problems:

  • Take care of your diabetes. Work with your health care team to keep your blood glucose within your target range.
  • Shoe-shop with care. Your shoes should be comfortable the moment you put them on. You should not have to “break them in.” It’s best to try on shoes at the end of the day when your feet are slightly swollen, and to wear the socks you plan to use with them. Consider buying two pairs of shoes and alternate them, allowing each pair to dry naturally for a day before you wear them again.
  • Check inside your shoes before wearing them. Make sure the lining is smooth and there are no objects inside. Something may have fallen into them, and if you have neuropathy, you may not feel it. Make sure there are no loose pieces of fabric or leather inside your shoe that could rub against your foot and cause blisters or other sores.
  • Check your feet daily. Look at your entire foot, including the bottom and  between your toes. You can use a mirror to check the bottom of your feet if you need to. Make sure you don’t have any sores, cuts, bruises or toenail changes. The skin on your feet may change and become shiny, tight, or darker or paler than normal. Feel your feet by running your hands along the tops, bottoms and sides of your feet, as well as between your toes. If you notice any wounds or changes in your feet, see your healthcare provider immediately.
  • Wash your feet daily. Use a mild soap and lukewarm water to wash your feet. Dry your feet gently with a towel after you wash them, and make sure you dry between and under your toes.
  • Exercise regularly. Walking improves circulation and can help control your weight. Be certain to wear properly fitted walking shoes.
  • Never try to remove corns, calluses or warts by yourself. Over-the-counter products can burn or damage your skin. Sometimes this damage cannot be repaired.
  • Don’t smoke – or quit smoking. Smoking can cause decreased blood flow to the feet and make wounds heal slowly. If you need help quitting smoking, you can check out Parkview’s smoking cessation class.
  • Get an annual foot exam. During this exam, your physicians can identify risk factors that predict ulcers and possible amputations. Some risk factors are loss of feeling in your feet, foot deformities and circulation problems. The exam can be done either by your primary care physician or by a podiatrist (a doctor who specializes in foot care).

Foot Care During Sandal Weather

When the weather heats up, a cool pair of sandals, a barefoot walk on the beach or dipping your toes in the pool sounds refreshing. Unfortunately, these simple pleasures can cause blisters, scrapes and dry, cracked feet. This can be dangerous if you have diabetes.

Summer is not the time to take a vacation from foot care. Prolonged hot, humid weather can lead to a number of foot complications if you’re not careful about protecting your feet.

Here are additional tips to help you protect your feet – and manage your diabetes – during warm summer months:

  • Never walk barefoot. Not even at the beach, at the pool, in the water or in your home. You should always wear sandals or water shoes to protect your feet from blisters, scrapes, burns, dryness and other injuries.
  • Apply sunscreen to your feet. If you wear sandals or water shoes, lathering the tops and bottoms of your feet and toes with sunscreen will keep them from sunburn. A sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher is best.
  • Use lotion for smooth skin. It’s easy for the skin on your feet to become dry and cracked – especially in the warm summer months. Rub a coat of lotion on the tops and bottoms of your feet, but avoid putting it between your toes. Excess moisture can lead to fungal infections.

If you have questions about diabetes, or your proper foot care, talk with your physician or diabetes educator.