Keeping the spring in your step is more than just a saying for those of us living with diabetes—it’s a goal to work toward keeping our feet healthy and avoid common complications.
Most of us have been told by our doctors that uncontrolled diabetes causes nerve damage in the feet, also called peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is a problem because it limits pain sensation that prevents you from noticing cuts, sores, and blisters on your feet. It also prevents you from sensing if your shoes are too tight or if your feet are swelling, which may lead to cuts and abrasions. Neuropathy also makes it difficult to sense hot and cold temperatures, which can lead to frostbite from the cold, or unintentionally burning yourself from hot water. And, it affects our balance and may cause trips and falls. Nerve damage can affect the function of our foot muscles, leading to improper alignment and injury.
Neuropathy can also be combined with another common condition for people with diabetes called peripheral artery disease, which is poor circulation in your legs due to narrowing of the arteries. If you have these conditions, keep in mind that elevated blood sugars make you more prone to infections and make it more difficult for the body to heal wounds. Meaning, that small cut on your foot that you didn’t give much thought to and should’ve healed quickly might not heal for weeks or months. Poor circulation can also lead to gangrene, which is tissue death that occurs in a localized area when there is an inadequate blood supply.
It’s so important to maintain good foot health because peripheral neuropathy and peripheral artery disease can turn otherwise minor issues into bigger issues for those of us living with diabetes. Some of these issues include corns, calluses, blisters, ingrown toenails, foot fungus, athlete’s foot, hammertoes, foot ulcers, dry skin, warts—all of which we can avoid by showing our feet a little TLC on a consistent basis. Taking care of our feet may not sound very glamorous, but as persons living with diabetes, we need to check our feet regularly so we can attend to issues as they arise. It is also very important to visit a podiatrist every 2-3 months to have your feet examined. Foot issues account for 20-25% of all diabetes-related hospital admissions—but the good news is that most of these issues are completely avoidable!
Here are some simple things you can do to keep putting your best foot forward. Check your feet daily if you have had any issues in the past or have poor circulation. If not, check your feet once a week. Wash your feet daily with non-irritating soap and warm water and avoid soaking your feet. Be sure to dry your feet completely after showering, paying special attention to the areas between the toes. Check with your podiatrist about which foot lotion is best for you and use it as recommended, while avoiding applying lotion in between the toes. Also have your podiatrist show you how to cut your nails and smooth any hardened corns and calluses or how often to come in to have it done if you cannot do it safely by yourself. Always wear proper footwear, socks, or stockings to avoid rubbing. Avoid sandals and walking barefoot to minimize the chances of cuts or injury. Getting fitted for proper shoes is also a great option, as many insurance policies cover the fitting of special shoes for persons with diabetes. Make sure to keep the blood flowing to your feet. You can do this by putting your feet up when sitting, wiggling your toes and circling your ankles throughout the day, and avoiding crossing your legs for extended periods of time. And if you smoke cigarettes, try to cut down on the amount you smoke per day and set a goal to quit as soon as you can. This last point isn’t easy, but will absolutely help improve your foot health and overall health.
And of course, regular exercise is absolutely essential to your foot health! It maintains circulation in the feet, builds muscles in the lower body, improves balance, and helps you maintain a healthy weight. It also keeps your blood sugars in a more controlled, healthy range, which will absolutely reduce our risk of complications.
By staying conscious of our feet and the information we just shared, we can take the proper steps to stay healthy, avoid complications, and take back control of living with diabetes.
By Lauren Szalkiewicz