Your feet might not be the first thing on your mind after a diabetes diagnosis, but foot complications are a common (and serious) complication of the condition. Diabetes is associated with poor blood circulation and nerve damage, called neuropathy. With less blood reaching your feet, cells receive insufficient oxygen, which can make wounds (even seemingly minor cuts or blisters) heal more slowly and progress into more serious infections.
Having diabetes doesn’t mean you’re doomed for foot problems, however. These tips can help you take better care of your tootsies.
Inspect your feet daily. Neuropathy may mean you don’t feel sensations on your feet as well as you used to, which means dangerous cuts or cracks could go undetected if you’re not checking carefully. Take a look at your feet at least once a day and look for calluses, scaling, blisters, swelling, redness, or cracks—especially between the toes or on the heels. “If you can’t see the bottom of your foot, either have somebody that you live with check the bottoms of your feet, or you could even get a mirror,” says podiatrist William Spielfogel, DPM, chief of the division of podiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital.
Stay moisturized. Choose thick and creamy moisturizers that can keep the feet hydrated and avoid cracked heels. (Learn more tips for avoiding cracked heels here.)
Dry your feet well. Dark and damp places are a haven for fungus, which can do more than just invite foot odor. “If your feet are wet and you put your socks on,” says Spielfogel, “that’s a good breeding ground for a fungal infection.” With diabetes, these infections can heal more slowly.
Know your shoe size. Shoes that are too tight or too roomy can cause blisters, calluses, cracked heels, and more. Never leave the store without first trying on the shoe, since all brands and shoe types can feel a little different on the foot. Your foot also tends to get slightly bigger with age or after other body changes, like pregnancy. You could also use orthotics to help shoes fit better and protect against foot problems (not to mention back pain).
Check the insides of your shoes before you slip them on. If you have peripheral neuropathy—damage to the nervous system that results in numbness or tingling in the feet and hands—you may be more likely to miss a dangerous object like a thumb tack or rock inside your shoe. This can lead to infection.
Take caution with pedicures. Yes, you can pamper your feet at a professional salon, but you need to choose a business with top-notch hygiene practices and alert the technician that you have diabetes and tell them they need to be careful not to cut the skin, says Minisha Sood, MD, an endocrinologist in New York City. Check out these tips for a safe and healthy pedicure, and chat with your doctor before hitting up the salon.
Seek professional care when problems arise. Don’t do “bathroom surgery” and attempt to nix ingrown toenails or calluses on your own. “If you do cut yourself by accident,” warns Dr. Spielfogel, “it could lead to a serious problem.”
For more lifestyle tips with diabetes, here are healthy habits to help manage blood sugar.