Happy Feet with Diabetes

Diabetic foot care and ulcer prevention

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

Diabetes can lead to complications throughout your body, even in your feet. Both poor blood circulation and nerve damage put your feet at risk of skin sores, or ulcers. By properly controlling your diabetes and keeping a close eye on your feet, you can prevent foot ulcers.

This article offers tips on how to keep your feet happy and healthy while living with diabetes.

How do foot ulcers form?

In people with diabetes, the feet face a two-sided attack. First, diabetes can slow blood flow to the feet, which can make it harder for cuts and blisters to heal. Second, diabetes can lead to nerve damage - or neuropathy - that causes your feet to go numb. If you can't feel cuts and blisters on your feet, you may be more likely to develop ulcers or infection.

Why is it important to prevent or treat foot ulcers?

According to the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC), more than half of all lower-limb amputations in the United States are carried out on people with diabetes. Experts believe that many of these amputations could have been avoided through proper foot care.

If you develop a foot ulcer, you should seek treatment immediately. Without treatment, an ulcer can do serious damage to your bone and tissue. The damage may be so severe that you need to amputate (surgically remove) a toe, foot or part of your leg.

How can I prevent foot ulcers?

The key to preventing foot ulcers - or any complication of diabetes - is to properly control your diabetes. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, carefully watching your blood sugar and sticking to your drug regimen can prevent the nerve damage and poor blood flow that leads to foot ulcers.

Proper foot care is also crucial for the prevention of foot ulcers and amputation. Here are some pointers on how to take care of your feet:

  • Check your feet everyday. Look at your feet at least once a day to check for cuts, blisters, sores, redness, calluses or anything else that does not seem normal. If it's hard to reach your feet, use a mirror. If you have trouble seeing, ask a friend or family member to help you check your feet.
  • Wash your feet everyday. Use warm water - not hot water. Use mild soap and do not soak your feet. Using a soft towel, make sure to dry your feet well, especially between your toes.
  • Take caution removing calluses, corns, warts or bunions. If you develop any of these growths or lesions, your best bet is to visit a doctor or foot specialist for removal. However, you can gently file corns or calluses on your own using an emery board or pumice stone after a shower. Ask your doctor about foot lesion removal before taking it into your own hands.
  • Neaten your toenails. Cut your nails straight across. File any sharp edges away using a emery board. If you have trouble reaching your feet, ask a nurse, relative or friend for assistance. 
  • Do not walk barefoot. Wearing footwear at all times will help prevent foot injury. Even if you're in your house, it is wise to wear slippers or shoes.
  • Wear the right socks. Not all socks are made equally. Some sock materials - such as nylon - trap sweat and moisture. If you have nerve damage or poor circulation, you should wear socks made of cotton or special acrylic fibers that pull sweat away from your skin. Make sure your socks fit properly. In addition, you should avoid wearing socks with tight elastic bands.
  • Wear the right shoes. Buy shoes that are comfortable. Your shoes should not be too tight or too loose. They should give your toes room to move while providing support to the heel, arch and ball of your foot. After buying a new pair of shoes, break them in over time. At first, wear them only for a couple hours at a time. Some patients wear shoes designed specifically for their feet (orthopedic shoes). Avoid wearing high heels or shoes that jam your toes together.
  • Quit smoking today. Smoking tobacco is unhealthy for anyone; the habit is especially bad for those with diabetes. Smoking reduces blood flow and the amount of oxygen in your blood. These circulation problems can worsen foot wounds and make it harder for such wounds to heal.
  • Get regular foot exams. While you are in the best position to keep a close eye on your feet, your doctor can spot problems that you may not see. Your doctor or foot specialist (podiatrist) can identify early signs of nerve damage and poor circulation. It is recommended that diabetes patients schedule a foot exam at least once a year.
Review Date: 
October 10, 2012