People with diabetes can develop many different foot problems, and even seemingly simple ones can lead to serious complications. The reason? Many people with diabetes have artery disease, which reduces blood flow to the feet. Many also have nerve disease, called neuropathy, which reduces sensation, making it harder to tell when something’s wrong.
Together, these problems make it easy to get ulcers and infections that may lead to amputation. In fact, more than 60 percent of nontraumatic lower-limb amputations occur in people with diabetes.
The good news is that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), amputations have declined significantly among U.S. adults with diabetes in recent years. This is largely due to better foot care and overall diabetes management—proving that taking care of yourself and your feet can go a long way.
Most people can prevent serious foot troubles by following some simple steps. So here are the do’s and don’ts of foot care:
- Keep your blood glucose in your target range. That’s the best way to prevent most diabetes complications.
- Have your health care provider perform a complete foot exam at least once a year.
- Check your bare feet daily. Look for red spots, cuts, swelling and blisters. If you cannot see the bottoms of your feet, use a mirror or ask someone for help.
- Wash your feet every day. Dry them carefully, especially between the toes. Using a pumice stone (on wet skin) every day will help keep calluses under control.
- Keep your skin soft and smooth by rubbing a thin coat of petroleum jelly or lotion over the tops and bottoms of your feet—but not between your toes. Too much moisture there can lead to infection.
- If you can see and reach your toenails, trim them straight across as needed and file the edges with an emery board or nail file. If you cannot cut your toenails safely yourself, or if you have corns or calluses, have your health care provider take care of them for you. Calluses, if not trimmed, can thicken, break down and turn into open sores (ulcers).
- Let your health care provider know if you have cuts or breaks in the skin or an ingrown toenail. Also, tell him or her if your foot changes color or shape or just feels different (for example, becomes less sensitive or hurts).
- Keep blood flowing to your extremities. Exercise regularly and put your feet up when sitting. Don’t cross your legs for long periods of time.
- Don’t smoke. Using tobacco products can cause decreased blood flow to the feet and make wounds heal more slowly.
- Wear shoes and socks at all times; never go barefoot. Make sure your shoes fit well and protect your feet. Check inside your shoes for foreign objects before putting them on.
- Protect your feet from hot and cold. You can burn your feet without realizing it, so test water before putting your feet in, just as you would when bathing a baby. Never use hot water bottles, heating pads or electric blankets. Wear shoes at the beach or on hot pavement.
- Ask about prescription shoes covered by Medicare or other insurance.
Get moving with these easy steps — because diabetes doesn’t have to knock you off your feet.