Diabetes can lead to complications affecting organs and structures all over the body–including the feet. Because of this, it’s important for diabetics and their caretakers to be especially vigilant about foot care, and to be able to recognize signs of trouble in the region. Read on for more on how diabetes may affect foot health–and what diabetes can do to reduce their risk of injury.
How Diabetes Harms Feet
There are two primary ways in which diabetes causes or facilitates foot injuries: reduced circulation and nerve damage.
- Circulation: Diabetes reduces blood flow to extremities, especially to the feet and legs. Because of this, wounds and injuries to the feet may heal very slowly or not at all, and are more likely to become infected. If circulation stops completely, tissue in the foot may die, and in severe cases, may need to be amputated.
- Nerve damage: Many diabetics experience nerve damage. Nerve damage in the feet may make it difficult or impossible to feel pain, effectively masking injuries which, left untreated, can become infected or lead to permanent deformity.
How Diabetics Can Lower Their Risk of Serious Foot Injuries
The good news is that there are ways diabetics can help prevent serious injuries to their feet. The better news? Most of these double as ways to improve your overall health, too!
- Maintain a Healthy Body Weight: More weight=more stress on your feet, which need all the help they can get.
- Be Active: Physical activity encourages circulation and helps you maintain a healthy body weight. If you are not able to walk, consult with your doctor or a physical therapist about other ways to exercise your feet.
- Eat Well: Good nutrition gives your body the fuel it needs to repair itself and feel you healthy as possible.
- Don’t Smoke: Smoking impairs circulation–as does diabetes. Don’t make it a double whammy for your feet–quit now!
- Get Examined: Diabetics should schedule a minimum of four comprehensive foot exams per year. Yes, even if your feet feel fine–if your do have nerve damage, they may not be nearly as fine as you think.
- Wear Supportive Footwear: Even in your home, put on appropriate slippers–never just bare feet or socks. Keeping your feet warm and in supportive, well fitting footwear will help encourage circulation.
- Daily Self Exams: Check your feet, including the soles and between the toes, daily
- Wash Your Feet: Wash your feet every day, and dry them thoroughly
Signs It’s Time to See a Doctor–ASAP
Given their vulnerability to serious foot injury, diabetics must be vigilant about any new warning signs. This includes symptoms which might not be cause for alarm in non-diabetics. Diabetics experiencing the following foot symptoms should visit a doctor or podiatrist immediately.
- Skin that is severely dry and cracked
- Toenails growing thick and turning yellow
- Tingling or burning sensations in one or both feet
- Persistent change in color and temperature of feet
- Loss of sensitivity in feet, including sense of touch or ability to feel heat or cold
- Change in foot shape
- Loss of hair on toes, feet, and lower legs
- Infections on or between toes, fungal or otherwise
If you have diabetes, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with our podiatrists. Our foot specialists can help meet your specific risk management needs and treat conditions at the first signs of trouble.