As a podiatrist with Westchester Health, I see a lot of foot problems caused by diabetes, because these tend to be among the most common complications associated with diabetes. Some of my patients take good care of their feet, but sadly, some do not. If not managed properly, diabetes can cause irreversible damage to the feet and in the worst cases, amputation. As I tell all my diabetic patients, 95% of their diabetes care depends on them.
Two types of foot problems caused by diabetes
Good, regular foot care is always very important but for people with diabetes, it is even more crucial in order to keep your feet healthy. Diabetics face two main dangers in relation to their feet:
1. Diabetes can cause neurological damage by destroying the nerves that give sensitivity to the feet (diabetic neuropathy). This can impact the ability to feel pain, resulting in foot injuries from cuts, blisters and inflammation because the person cannot feel them.
2. Diabetes can also cause vascular damage, impacting blood vessels that nourish the tissues of the feet (diabetic vasculopathy). When there is decreased blood flow and/or lack of oxygen, the nutrient supply is reduced, leading to slow healing of wounds or other injuries. This increases the risk of infection and foot ulcers. In severe cases, untreated foot ulcers may require amputation.
The combination of these two types of damage can threaten your fingers and toes.
8 ways to prevent complications in diabetic feet
Remember, 95% of diabetes care depends on you. If you have diabetes, it’s absolutely critical that you take good care of your feet and avoid complications. Following these 8 guidelines will help you maintain healthy feet, ankles and toes and hopefully prevent serious complications.
- Be under the constant medical supervision of a physician, preferably a specialist (podiatrist). Monitor your blood sugar levels, take your medications, practice good foot care and do not skip medical checkups.
- Check your feet every day. Use a mirror for the areas you can’t see or ask someone to help you. Look for cuts, swelling, redness or any change in nails and skin.
- Keep your feet clean and dry. Wash your feet every day with cold or lukewarm water. NEVER use hot water. To check the temperature, touch the water with your hands or elbows or use a thermometer. Be sure to dry your feet well, especially between your toes.
- Use an easily absorbed moisturizer. Be sure to put it between your toes as well as the top of your feet and heels. This reduces dryness that can lead to injury caused by rubbing from socks or shoes.
- Increase your blood circulation. Spend 5-10 minutes every day doing simple exercises. For example: Sit down and put your feet up, moving your fingers up and down your legs. Avoid sitting with your legs crossed for long periods of time. Do not wear tight socks.
- Wear clean socks every day. It’s critically important to wear the right type of socks. Choose ones that are comfortable with padding and without seams or elastic bands. Acrylic and acrylic-blend socks will minimize the impact pressure on your feet.
- Be very careful when cutting your toenails. Ask your physician or podiatrist which tools you should use to properly trim your nails and manage calluses on the bottom of your feet. Better yet, get him/her to trim them for you. If there is any change in the color or appearance of your nails, you should alert your doctor immediately.
- Wear comfortable shoes that do not cause friction. Avoid high heels because they tend to generate pressure on the toes and heels. Do not walk barefoot, not even at home.
If you have diabetes, you should check your feet twice a day
Regularly performing foot checks is an essential part of your diabetes management. Foot checks should also be carried out by your healthcare professional at your office visits and annual checkups. Also, if you have neuropathy, you may not be able to feel the pain of wounds (large or small) in your feet—another important reason you need to do daily foot checks.
If you have a diabetic foot problem of any kind, come see me
If you have diabetes and are concerned about the condition of your feet, ankles and toes, have pain in your feet or heels, or are experiencing any other problems with your feet, make an appointment to come see me at one of my Westchester Health offices. I’ll examine your heels, ankles and feet, evaluate your condition, and together with you, determine the best course of treatment for your specific condition.