The term diabetes refers to a family of diseases that affect how your body uses blood sugar (glucose). However, diabetes patients suffer from complications beyond just digestion and regulating blood sugar levels. Severe foot problems in particular, are among the most reported risk factors associated with diabetes. As foot problems can lead to infection and ultimately, amputation, it's crucial to have a solid understanding of proper diabetic foot care.
With this article, we're going to address the importance of excellent foot care for diabetics, as well as offer some patient resources.
What Is Diabetic Foot Care? Why Does It Matter?
Per the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, diabetes dramatically increases the risk of foot injury and illnesses because of two specific complications:
- poor circulation and blood flow
- diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage)
If you're a diabetic patient, proper foot care will include education and awareness, close inspections of your feet, adequate footwear in the form of appropriate socks and shoes, regular hygiene practices, and overall management of your diabetes. A good understanding of pathogens, contamination and infection risks are key.
It's important to know that diabetic peripheral neuropathy (the deadening of nerves and loss of feeling in their feet) occurs slowly over time. It is not an issue that arises overnight but happens so slowly it may be difficult for patients to realize it's happening. Neuropathy affects three different nerve groups in the feet:
- Sensory nerves - which allow for sensations or "feeling" in the feet
- Autonomic nerves - which enable the body to perform automatic functions like sweating
- Motor nerves - which control foot muscles
It's also critical to be aware of the foot problems caused by poor circulation.
Common Foot Problems for Diabetics
Poor foot circulation and nerve damage will manifest in diabetic patients in the form of:
- sores and foot infections that do not heal, also known as ulcers
- bone infections
- abscesses, which are a collection of pus under the skin
- skin infections, on the surface of the skin
- dry skin
- ingrown toenails
- joint pain
- blisters, which can become ulcers
Patients should know the risk of foot ulcers is high among people with diabetes, and they're very dangerous. According to Endocrineweb.com, roughly 25% of diabetic patients will experience a foot ulcer in their lifetime, and between 9% to 20% of those patients will undergo an amputation because of it.
How to Care for Your Feet If You're Diabetic
Even a small injury or minor blister can be catastrophic to a diabetic patient. Patients should follow these diabetic foot care guidelines:
Inspect your feet every day. Poor circulation and neuropathy lead to a loss of feeling in your feet. Therefore, you may not notice a pebble in your shoe or the beginnings of a blister. Consider using a magnifying glass and good light to check your feet carefully, including the soles and toenail areas. Call your doctor right away if you see a sore, rash, or other irritation.
Per Healthline, some patients may have a hard time seeing the soles of their feet. If that's the case for you, try using a hand mirror.
Wash your feet daily in lukewarm bathwater. Remember to be gentle here. Use a bar of simple soap and a soft washcloth. Avoid using a harsh loofah, which can scratch the skin of your feet and create more problems.
Moisturize, but not between the toes. Fungal infections (like Athlete's Foot) crop up in between toes, so keep that area free of oils and moisturizers. Try oil-free lotion!
Trim toenails carefully. Generally, toenails should be cut straight across, and any sharp edges should be gently filed away. Take care not to cut nails too short. And if you notice an ingrown toenail, contact your doctor rather than attempting to treat it yourself.
Wear socks every day, and change them if needed during the day. This will help keep feet clean, dry, and free of infection.
Shake out your shoes and inspect them daily. It's a good idea to feel around the inside of your shoes with your fingertips, which will help you avoid any foreign materials that cause sores and blisters.
Never go barefoot! Always wear shoes. Even a minor "stubbed toe" can become a dangerous infection. Be sure to wear comfortable, appropriate shoes every day.
See a podiatrist. Even if your foot issues are minimal now, it's a good idea to meet with a podiatrist, build a relationship and give the foot doctor a "baseline" of how your foot is today, compared to how it looks in the future. They can also help determine if you will need special shoes or prescription foot care products now.
A Proper Foot Care Regime
Good habits are the key to proper foot care for people with diabetes. You should develop a daily system in your routine, including daily washing and inspection, weekly nail trimming, and regular checkups. While we recognize that every individual has a unique lifestyle, a proper diabetic foot care routine might include:
- A morning wash and foot exam
- Donning fresh socks and inspecting the interior of your shoes before going out for the day
- An evening wash and foot exam, changing out socks if needed
- Application of a light moisturizer before bed
Also, be sure not to perform any kind of "bathroom surgery" on your feet to remove corns, calluses, and the like. It's best to leave that to professionals, as an infection could be crippling.
How Our Patient Education Materials Can Help
In addition to our diabetes management publications (known among patients as "The Diabetes Bible"), we offer specific resources for patient education about diabetic foot care. Our resources help patients understand how to care for their feet, how to select proper footwear, how to inspect their feet, and whether they should call a doctor/podiatrist if they see a problem.
Best of all, our educational materials are easy for patients to take home, show loved ones, and keep handy. You can keep these materials in your home, vehicle, and workplace for quick reminders of proper care. They also help explain proper diabetes foot care to your caregivers and loved ones.
Would you like to know more about diabetes care, taking care of your feet, or any other patient education materials we offer? Contact us today! We'd love to walk you through our diabetic patient education materials!