Diabetes and foot care: at first glance, the two things don’t seem to be very closely associated. But for diabetics, paying attention to the feet is especially important – and that doesn’t mean simply getting a pedicure once in a while or keeping those pesky calluses buffed away. It’s a crucial issue, because the state of the feet can indicate a lot about the state of a diabetic’s health.
Since the two seem to be so unrelated, let’s take a look at why foot care is so important in the management of this disease. First, there’s the issue of high blood glucose. High blood glucose makes a diabetic more susceptible to foot infections: it does a lot of damage to blood vessels, which lessens blood flow to certain areas. If you get a sore or a cut of some sort, it will heal much more slowly due to the slower flow of blood. Elevated glucose levels can also keep white blood cells from fighting off infections as effectively as they normally would. Then there’s the neuropathy, or nerve damage, that many diabetics suffer from. Nerve damage keeps a person from feeling heat, cold, or pain as keenly as they should, and that can lead to temperature-related issues such as frostbite or burns, or prevent the person from the awareness that an injury has happened. When you can’t feel pain, you’re less likely to seek treatment for injuries that could cause complications.
The feet are prime targets for injuries – cuts, ingrown toenails, and blisters, to name a few – that would be relatively minor to a person without diabetes. But for diabetics, who are slow to heal, lacking in the sensation of pain, and unable to fight infection as well, even minor foot problems can mean a major catastrophe: loss of toes, foot, or the whole lower leg in worst-case scenarios. By taking proper care of your feet, you can greatly diminish your chances of injury and infection – here’s how.
- Keep them clean. Use a mild soap, and wash your feet daily, even if you don’t bathe every day. Dry them thoroughly.
- Keep them moisturized. Prevent dry, cracking skin by keeping your feet, especially your heels, well-conditioned with a rich lotion. Don’t put any lotion between your toes, however, as excess moisture in that area could lead to infection.
- Keep them trimmed. Keep your toenails short and clipped straight across – don’t cut into the corners of the nail. Gently smooth away calluses and corns with pumice stones, but never cut them!
- Keep them protected. Never go barefoot; if you can’t wear shoes all the time, at least wear socks. Good-quality socks are important. They should be thick enough to provide protection and cushioning. Your feet should be able to breathe, so look for socks that wick moisture away from the skin – socks made by athletic companies are a good choice. Wear shoes that fit comfortably and don’t rub anywhere; you don’t want blisters! And whatever you do, limit your time on hot surfaces (such as sand or asphalt) or cold surfaces (ice or snow) to avoid temperature-related injuries.
- Keep them inspected. Since you may not always be able to feel an injury, it’s important to give your feet a thorough once-over at the end of each day. Check for cuts, scrapes, blisters, rashes, or areas of discolored skin. Make sure you look everywhere, even between the toes and around the nails.
- Keep them circulating. It’s very important to keep the blood flowing through your feet to prevent soft tissue and nerve damage. Don’t wear socks with tight elastic, restrictive footwear, or anything that may hinder blood flow. Every now and then, stop to slowly rotate your ankles, flex your foot up and down, and wiggle your toes.
Your feet can take quite a beating through your daily activities, and seemingly minor injuries can be a diabetic’s worst enemy – so devote some time to giving those tootsies the proper care. Just a few simple steps and you can avoid the foot problems that diabetes can bring: it’s one more way to take control over the disease!
Foot Care for Diabetics Infographic