Diabetes and Feet: Minor Wounds, Major Problems

For most people, small foot injuries like calluses or blisters are a minor aggravation. They may feel sore, and they certainly don’t make your feet look any better. But these small wounds can grow into devastating problems for people with diabetes.

“The average person will unconsciously change the way they walk to minimize that callus forming, because for many people it hurts,” explains Marc House, DPM, a podiatrist at the Podiatry Associates of Indiana, Foot & Ankle Institute in Indianapolis. “With diabetes, you don’t feel it, so you continue to walk on the area.”

Here’s why:

  • Diabetes can damage nerves in the feet, so many people with diabetes don’t have normal sensation in their feet.

Diabetes can lead to narrowed arteries in the legs, causing poor blood flow to the feet.

  • Minor wounds may heal poorly and become infected as a result of the reduced blood flow. If you can’t feel your feet very well, you may not even realize that a problem is developing. Diabetes experts make it a priority to teach people to protect their feet for good reason. Doctors perform thousands of lower-limb amputations, including foot removal surgeries, in people with diabetes each year because of these nerve and circulation issues.

Diabetes and Feet: Keeping Them Healthy

According to the National Institutes of Health, smart tips for people with diabetes include:

  • Inspect your feet daily. Stay on the lookout for signs of possible trouble such as red spots, blisters, and cuts. If you can’t see the bottoms of your feet, lay a mirror on the floor and use it to inspect your soles. Let your doctor know if you notice any sores or cuts on your feet that don’t heal within a day or two.
  • Never walk barefoot. That goes for inside and outside. Always feel inside your shoes with your fingers before you put them on to make sure a sharp object isn’t hiding inside.
  • Keep them warm. If your feet get cold, put on warm socks. Avoid using heating pads on your feet — they may burn you.
  • Get a check-up. Ask a health care provider to check your feet at every visit.
  • Use a pumice stone. If your doctor says it’s okay, use a pumice stone to treat calluses. Never use a sharp blade on your feet.

Wear the right shoes and socks. Buy shoes that have plenty of support, but are not too tight. Also be sure to wear clean, lightly cushioned socks at all times to prevent blisters.

  • Control your blood sugar. As with most diabetes complications, you’re less likely to have foot problems if you aggressively manage your blood sugar. Work closely with your doctor to keep your blood sugar under control.
  • Don’t smoke. You probably already know that smoking is bad for your heart and lungs, but you may not know that it also decreases blood flow to your feet — increasing the risk of sores and infection.

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