Look down. If you have diabetes, keeping an eye on your feet can save them. One in five diabetics will require an amputation of toes or the foot. Impaired blood circulation to the feet compromises healing when there is an infection or injury. In addition, diabetics often have neuropathy or nerve damage which produces numbness in the feet. Without sensation, you are more susceptible to injury, foot ulcers and infection.
Effective management of your diabetes is the most important preventive measure you can take to preserve your feet. Begin with keeping your blood sugar under control. With diet, exercise, medication, and frequent monitoring of your blood sugar, you can manage diabetes and have a healthy life.
Check your feet daily for cuts, sores, blisters, swelling, redness, or anything that doesn’t look right. Use a mirror to inspect the sole, heel and inspect each toe. Neuropathy can impair normal sweating, leading to dryness and cracking of the skin. Make a habit of washing and moisturizing your feet daily to keep the skin, your barrier against infection, in good shape. Be careful not to use hot water, or soak your feet for a long time. Because of neuropathy, you may not be able to feel when water is too hot.
Never use sharp tools on your feet. If you have rough spots, rub them gently with a pumice stone. Avoid products, such as callous or wart removers, that might cause a chemical burn. If you have calluses or warts, see a podiatrist for the proper treatment. You may also need special shoes or shoe inserts the podiatrist can recommend.
Keep your toenails trimmed and be very careful with nail care. If you are going to have a pedicure, tell the technician you are a diabetic. Be certain your nail technician takes extra precautions to avoid infection or injury. If your nails are thickened or yellow, indicating a toenail fungus, see a podiatrist for treatment.
Regular care by a podiatrist is essential for a diabetic. Any time you notice a change in appearance or feeling, an ingrown toe nail, injury, ulcer, inflammation or infection, see your healthcare provider immediately. Pain or changes in color are also indications of complications that could lead to amputation.
Avoid going barefoot, even indoors. Shoes and socks are your feet’s best protection against injury. Be sure they fit well, with no rubbing or tightness. Cotton or wool socks provide the best moisture-control. If you tend to keep shoes that are well broken-in for years and years, reconsider. Your feet deserve new shoes at least every six months, and more often if you do a great deal of walking. Choose shoes with good support and break in those new shoes slowly.
Protect the skin of your feet from summer and winter woes. Use sunscreen on the tops of exposed feet. Avoid flip-flops which offer no support or protection. In winter, watch out for frostbite if exposed to the cold. Avoid anything that constricts blood flow to the feet, including tight boots, clothing, stockings, or socks, sitting in one position for long periods, and crossing your legs. If you are hospitalized and advised to wear TED support stockings, be sure they don’t bunch at the back of the knee and limit circulation.
Exercise helps the circulation, but ask your healthcare provider what type of exercise is best for you. Walking, swimming and riding a bike may be better than running or playing tennis which are higher impact sports.
You can prevent injuries and infections and the complications of diabetes leading to amputations. If you are a diabetic, keep an eye on your feet.