Diabetes and Foot Care: Essential Tips for Healthy Feet
Time to read 9 min
Time to read 9 min
Elevated blood sugar levels can cause various foot complications for people with diabetes, making it harder for you to walk around without feeling pain.
This difficulty arises from the nerve damage and the poor blood flow associated with the condition. That said, with the guidance of your doctor, you can take some preventive measures to keep your feet healthy.
These measures include eating well, daily inspection and cleaning, reducing stress, exercising, wearing special shoes and socks, and more. Here’s all you need to know about diabetes and foot care.
Diabetes can negatively affect your feet by causing nerve damage, poor circulation, and toenail problems. These three factors contribute to loss of sensation in your feet, a condition known as peripheral neuropathy that can lead to serious foot problems. Let’s break down each symptom of the condition:
Nerve damage that results from peripheral neuropathy manifests as loss of sensation. This prevents the affected person from feeling cuts, sores, pressure, and temperature changes.
The constant numbness and loss of sensation make it easy to have your foot injured without you realizing it. An injured foot, like an open wound, for example, may lead to infection and inflammation. This is exacerbated even more when the wound isn’t cleaned and taken care of (since you’re unaware of it).
The nerve damage can also cause a burning sensation or a shooting pain in your feet.
High blood sugar causes poor blood flow, especially in the legs, since they’re the organs furthest from the heart.
This is particularly dangerous for feet already subjected to unattended cuts and wounds. As such, wounds will take longer to heal and can get infected easily.
Decreased blood flow also reduces the general moisturization of the skin, leading to dryness and cracks.
In extreme cases, the blood circulation of the feet is so poor that tissues do not receive enough nutrients to survive. The tissues then start to die and darken, resulting in a condition known as gangrene.
The nerve damage can change how the toenails grow, causing ingrown or disfigured toenails, which are both painful and prone to infection.
Diabetes also causes nails to become thicker, yellow, or opaque due to fungal infections. The abnormally grown nails may also pressure the surrounding tissues, causing inflammation and foot ulcers.
You can tell that diabetes is taking its toll on your feet if you see one or more of the following symptoms:
Numbness or tingling sensation in your feet.
Thickening of the toenails.
Changes in the color and/or shape of the feet.
Red spots, ulcers, blisters, and sores that consistently keep coming back.
Loss of hair on toes, feet, and/or legs.
Reduced sensation to touch, heat, and cold.
These tips should prevent serious foot complications to people with diabetes, paired with adequate blood sugar control. So keep in mind that the following tips won’t protect your feet on their own without proper diabetes management.
Prevention is always better than treatment. If you are diagnosed with neuropathy, it becomes essential to visually check your feet daily.
That way, you’ll notice any damage or cuts early on and address any potential problems before they progress further.
Also, if you notice anything on your feet that you can’t deal with, like ingrown toenails, seeing a podiatrist (foot doctor) is advisable. Regularly visiting a podiatrist can be a good practice, as they can often detect problems your eyes may not see.
Pair regular inspections with daily washing and moisturizing, and your feet should remain healthy.
Regularly trimming the toenails is especially important for people whose toenails are thicker. In addition to the abnormal growth that results from diabetes, long toenails can collect a lot of dust and bacteria, increasing the risk of infection.
Take your time while trimming to eliminate sharp edges, as these can damage the surrounding skin even if the nails aren’t too long. Use a nail file alongside clippers to maintain smooth, straight lines on the cut edges of your toenails.
Temperature extremes can be harmful to people who have diabetes as they’re more susceptible to tissue damage. Burns or frostbites are the last thing you’d want if your feet are affected by diabetes.
Avoid showering with excessively cold or warm water, don’t walk barefoot, and do your best to always keep your feet at room temperature.
Excessive drinking and smoking can negatively affect the blood circulation. If possible, refrain from smoking and alcohol entirely. If not, then limiting their intake should be a priority.
Physical movement and exercise will improve your blood circulation and help you reduce the effects of high blood sugar on the nerves of your feet. A few minutes of exercise at the beginning of the day can drastically improve your prognosis if you do it consistently.
However, take care not to damage your feet by harsh exercises. Avoid activities that involve bouncing, leaping, and jumping, which could harm the soles of your feet or cause bruises and/or cuts.
Avoid flip-flops, overly high heels, and open and pointed-toe shoes. Such footwear creates localized pressure points on your feet, which could cause bruises and cuts. And don’t wear tight socks that can disrupt circulation to your feet.
You should also keep in mind that sweating and fungal infections can arise if you wear the same pairs of shoes and socks for a long time.
Soft insoles can dampen the impact of walking around when you wear shoes, especially if your job calls for extended daily walks.
These are shoe-shaped pads that you place inside your shoes before you put them on. Because they occupy some of the shoe space, it’s best to use those insoles in shoes slightly larger than your feet to avoid pressure points.
If your shoes feel too tight while the insoles are in, we don’t recommend using them, as they’ll do more harm than good.
It’s a bit of muscle memory for us to test the pool or bath water with our feet before jumping in. However, people with diabetes should be extra careful regarding that.
Because of the reduced sensation to temperature, the person may fail to realize that the water is either too hot or too cold, leading to potential damage on prolonged exposure.
The hands usually have better circulation, so even if the feet are affected by diabetes, the hands can give you a better assessment of the water temperature.
Yes, you may need diabetic shoes if you suffer from diabetes and walk around too much. These shoes typically don’t require inserting insoles, as they’re specifically designed to cater to the needs of people with diabetes.
Diabetic shoes address the needs of diabetic patients through the following:
A wider toe box that accommodates foot changes that can occur because of neuropathy.
Their deeper height provides extra room for swollen feet, which is a common symptom of diabetes.
A seamless interior with no irritating stitches and pressure points that can cause ulcerations.
Shock-absorbing soles that cushion the feet at impact, providing better stability and reducing pressure on the soles.
Moisture-wicking inner materials are beneficial for feet that sweat. This keeps the feet dry and prevents fungal infections.
Adjustable closures that ensure a snug fit without constricting the foot.
Despite having soles specifically designed for diabetes, these shoes usually also have removable insoles that you can take off, allowing custom orthotics or inserts to address specific needs.
You can wear socks for diabetes along with diabetic shoes for maximum comfort. Diabetic socks are padded to reduce the risk of injury and irritation. They also absorb moisture to keep the feet dry and prevent fungal infections.
Keeping your feet warm indoors and outdoors will help your body deliver the blood and nutrients to them. Excessive cold causes shrinkage of your cells. When your feet are too cold, your blood vessels will narrow, making it harder for the blood to go through them.
Wear warm socks or footwear while walking at home, especially in the winter, and avoid exposing your feet to air when wet.
Proper blood flow won’t achieve the desired effect if you’re not getting enough nutrients.
It’s important not to mix between a healthy and carelessly dense diet. It’s not about the quantity of food; it’s about quality. Three nutritious meals a day should do the trick.
Also, you should avoid processed foods and unhealthy fats, which can increase blood cholesterol and hinder circulation.
Stress can increase your blood pressure and cause narrowing of blood vessels, especially when it persists for long durations.
While it can be challenging, people with diabetes should take extra measures to reduce stress through meditation, mindfulness, and even therapy to prevent its negative health effects.
Massage can improve your circulation by facilitating blood movement through congested areas and narrow blood vessels. Practice massaging your feet a few times daily to keep them warm and improve their blood supply.
Be careful not to be too harsh while doing so, as your feet are extra delicate and prone to injury when blood sugar levels are too high.
Hydrotherapy involves alternating between cold and warm water to improve the blood flow in affected areas. However, it’s best to consult your doctor before attempting hydrotherapy to avoid harmful temperature fluctuations.
No, not every person with diabetes will experience nerve damage, especially if blood sugar levels are well controlled. About 50% of people with diabetes have healthy feet with no nerve damage.
No, diabetic neuropathy is irreversible. The nerves can’t repair themselves once damaged.
However, the symptoms can be treated or at least alleviated to allow the affected person to have a normal life.
Diabetic neuropathy isn’t to be taken lightly, as it can cause a considerable amount of damage if left untreated. Fortunately, with lifestyle improvements and following up with your doctor, you can avoid the complications that come with it.
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