If you have diabetes, you must take good care of your feet. That’s because diabetes can cause nerve damage where you lose feeling in your feet. Without the sensation of pain, you may not notice a blister or small cut that could become infected. Plus, diabetes can reduce the blood flow to your feet, making it harder for sores or infections to heal.
“People with diabetes are at risk of non-healing wounds, infections, fractures and amputations at a much higher rate than nondiabetics,” said Brett Roeder, DPM, a podiatrist at Banner Health Clinic in Gilbert, AZ.
Here’s how to keep your feet healthy when you have diabetes
Following these tips can help reduce the risk of having an injury on your foot that doesn’t heal properly:
- Take a close look at your feet every day. You are your first line of defense when it comes to diabetic foot wounds and infections. If you see any swelling, cuts, blisters or injuries, bandage the area and schedule an appointment with your doctor. If you can’t see your feet well, find someone else who can examine them for you.
- Clean your feet daily with a washcloth. After you wash your feet, dry them and put talcum powder or cornstarch between your toes, so they stay dry—you want the skin on your feet to stay balanced, not overly dry but not damp, either. Don’t soak your feet since soaking can dry out the skin.
- Moisturize your feet with unscented lotion. Moisturizing helps keep your skin healthy and prevents it from becoming too dry. Dry skin can crack and create an opportunity for an infection to set in.
- Don’t go barefoot. When you’re barefoot or only wearing socks, you could step on something sharp without feeling it. Outdoors, you could also burn your feet on hot pavement.
- Wear shoes that fit correctly. Shoes that don’t fit right can press and rub against your feet, causing blisters or calluses that can lead to infections. If you have bunions or hammertoes, make sure you wear shoes that accommodate the shape of your foot.
Here’s how to reduce your risk of complications with your feet
A few lifestyle changes can help keep your feet healthier:
- Don’t smoke—it more than doubles your risk of amputation
- Control your weight and blood sugars, which reduces your risk of blindness, dialysis and cardiovascular problems, in addition to your risk of amputation
- If you’ve had diabetic foot wounds in the past, choose non-weightbearing exercise such as riding a stationary bike, swimming in a pool, rowing on a machine or lifting weights
Here’s what to do if you injure your foot
Dr. Roeder said how you treat a foot wound depends on its location. Treat a wound:
- On the top of the foot with over-the-counter antibiotic ointment
- In between the toes with iodine
- On the bottom of the foot with antibiotic ointment and by limiting the weight on it—you need to stay off your foot while it heals
If you don’t see solid improvement in the wound within a week, see your doctor. And see your doctor right away if:
- The area around the wound is red
- There’s pus in the wound
- The wound is deep
Your doctor can evaluate your blood flow, check for signs of infection, recommend wraps to help control swelling, or a cast or boot to help you keep your weight off the bottom of your foot. Your doctor might also refer you to a specialist at a wound care center.
The bottom line
When you have diabetes, you’re at higher risk for foot problems that can lead to infection or amputation. Good foot care can reduce your risk of these complications. Contact Banner Health if you would like to connect with a podiatrist who can help you take good care of your feet.
Learn more about staying healthy when you have diabetes:
- The Diabetes and Stroke Connection: Tips to Reduce Your Risk
- Seniors with Diabetes: Here’s the Best Way to Plan Your Meals
- Is Your Blood Sugar Stable? Why ‘Glycemic Variability’ Matters