Diabetic Feet

Photo of a person with diabetes touching the side of their foot

How does diabetes affect my feet?

Your feet may not be the first thing you think about when you hear "diabetes." But there is actually a close relationship between the disease and foot problems.

If you have diabetes, you'll need to pay special attention to your feet. Why? Because complications can arise suddenly and have serious consequences, including amputation, if not addressed.

WHAT ARE THE CAUSES AND SYMPTOMS?

Photo of a diabetic woman massaging nerve-damaged feet

Diabetes—which affects almost 1 in 10 Americans— primarily elevates blood sugar levels. But the disease also can cause nerve damage and poor circulation, which can lead to problems with your feet. Let's take a closer look.

Nerve damage

Nerve damage in your feet can not only cause painful tingling or burning sensations but also decreased sensitivity to pressure, pain, heat, and cold.

Drawn diagram of the bottom of a foot showing a circulation-related ulcer

This decreased sensitivity—which doctors call “peripheral neuropathy”—can make the foot numb to the development of calluses, wounds and cracked, dry skin. By not noticing or feeling the pain of these conditions, you risk dangerous infections if they are left untreated

Insensitivity to pain can also lead to the development of stress injuries to the joints of the feet. Unrecognized, these stress injuries can worsen just from walking and other simple physical activities. They may even lead to severe foot problems or deformities.

Poor circulation

Diabetes can cause blood vessels to narrow, which leads to poor blood flow. Poor blood flow compromises the body's ability to heal open wounds (often called ulcers) and fight infection. Doctors call this narrowing “peripheral vascular disease.” In extreme cases, peripheral vascular disease can lead to gangrene—the death of body tissue that usually must be removed through surgery.

Think You Might Have diabetic feet?TAKE THIS SELF-ASSESSMENT
Self- Assessment
Quiz
Have I experienced:
  • Numbness or diminished sensitivity to foot pain or discomfort, such as not noticing a blister or a pebble in my shoe?
  • A burning or tingling sensation in my feet?

If you answered “yes” to both of these questions, you show the key symptoms of diabetic feet.

If you have not already been diagnosed with diabetes, Take the next quick quiz.

Self- Assessment
Quiz
Have I experienced:
  • Eye problems such as blurred vision?
  • Increased thirst and hunger?
  • Dry mouth?
  • Frequent urination?
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain?
  • Decreased resistance to infection?

If you answered "yes" to more than one of these questions, you show some possible symptoms of diabetes. Make an appointment with your doctor, who will conduct a blood test to check for the disease. Keep reading for recommendations on treatment and relief from diabetic foot problems from the experts at FootSmart and The Podiatry Institute.

Are there any serious concerns with Diabetic Feet?
Photo of the bottom of a diabetic's foot with an infection from a small sore

When you have diabetes, minor problems such as calluses or small sores can quickly turn into serious complications that can lead to infection or abscess and possibly require amputation. It is crucial that you check your feet daily and immediately discuss any problems with your doctor.

Protecting your feet, however, needs to become part of your diabetes management, since complications can be sudden and severe.

How do I treat and Prevent Diabetic Feet?

Controlling your diabetes through diet, exercise, medication and other doctor-recommended measures is, of course, crucial and will go a long way toward reducing complications.

Here's what the experts at FootSmart and The Podiatry Institute recommend.

Photo of a seamless sock for diabetics that helps prevent blisters and calluses
Wear:
  • Diabetically certified shoes that fit well and protect your feet. These kinds of shoes have high, wide toe boxes to prevent blisters and calluses, and they are equipped with conforming, cushioning, and removable insoles. Look for insoles made of plastazote or similar materials.
  • Seamless socks and stockings to prevent blisters and calluses.
  • Properly fitting socks that stay in place without sagging, binding, or restricting your circulation.
  • Socks and stockings designed to keep moisture away from your feet.
Care for your feet:
  • Schedule regular check-ups with a podiatrist to assess potential complications.
  • Inspect your feet every day for blisters, bleeding and lesions. Use a mirror to examine the bottom of your feet, and don't forget to check between your toes
  • Promptly treat calluses, blisters, cuts, or sores, with a doctor's help if needed.
  • Wash your feet every day with warm, soapy water and dry them thoroughly, especially between the toes.
  • Trim your toenails regularly and carefully, to avoid cuts and sores.
  • Apply diabetic foot creams, but not between the toes.
  • Use devices such as blanket bars or foot cradles that lift heavy bedding off your feet at night.
Photo of a diabetic woman’s feet standing on a bathmat to keep dry
Avoid:
  • Soaking your feet excessively, especially in hot water.
  • Using hot water bottles or heating pads.
  • Using acids or chemical corn removers.
  • Performing "bathroom surgery" on corns, calluses or ingrown toenails.

In cases of severe complications or progressive deformities, your doctor may recommend surgery to resolve infections, heal ulcers, or realign the foot.