Diabetes has a profound effect on the feet. It can damage nerves and cause neuropathy making it hard for you to feel injuries or sore spots. Diabetes can also change blood flow, making it difficult for small problems, such as a blister, to heal properly. In fact, minor injuries can quickly become serious infections that send you to the hospital. It’s important to practice self-care to protect your feet and keep them healthy.
“More than half of limb amputations in the United States are related to complications of diabetes,” said wound specialist, Krista Schulte, CWOCN, FNP. “This is why it is important to look at your feet daily for any kind of skin damage such as a sore or cut which could easily become infected if it goes unnoticed.”
Neuropathy can also cause a change in the function of the muscles of the foot which may lead to altered alignment causing too much pressure in one area which may result in a diabetic foot ulcer. Diabetes can also affect the flow of blood in the lower legs which is known as peripheral vascular disease. Smoking can further decrease the amount of oxygen that gets to the lower leg.
Prevention is key to limiting risk of complications to the diabetic foot. To help keep foot problems from developing, follow these suggestions:
- Check your feet and toes daily for any cuts, sores, bruises, bumps, or infections—use a mirror or ask someone to help you if necessary.
- Wash your feet daily using warm (not hot) water and a mild soap. Avoid soaking because this can dry out the skin and cause risk of burns from warm water or could cause infection if there is a sore or cut. Dry your feet carefully with a soft towel, especially between the toes.
- Cover your feet (except for the skin between the toes) with petroleum jelly, a lotion or cream containing lanolin, or an oil based lubricant before putting on shoes and socks. For people with diabetes, the feet tend to sweat less than normal. Using a moisturizer helps prevent dry, cracked skin.
- Ask your healthcare provider to check your feet at every visit, and call your healthcare provider if you notice that a sore is not healing well.
- Don’t treat corns or calluses yourself. Talk to your healthcare provider or podiatrist (a healthcare provider who specializes in foot care) if you need assistance trimming your toenails.
- Avoid sitting with your legs crossed. Crossing your legs can reduce the flow of blood to the feet.
- Examine your shoes before putting them on to make sure they have no tears, sharp edges, or objects in them that might injure your feet.
- Wear shoes that fit your feet well and allow your toes to move. Break in new shoes gradually, wearing them for only an hour at a time at first. Shoes should be worn at all times, even in the home with use of cotton absorbent socks. Talk with your healthcare provider about whether you would qualify for insurance coverage of diabetic shoes.
- Never go barefoot, especially on the beach, hot sand, or rocks.
- Regular exercise improves blood flow in your feet. It also increases foot strength and flexibility. Gentle exercises, like walking or riding a stationary bicycle, are best.
Krista Schulte shares more in the video below: