Take care of your feet and they will take care of you!
Everyone should practice proper foot care, but foot care for people with diabetes is even more important. That’s because they can be at risk of neuropathy, a common complication of diabetes that affects sensation in the feet.
Neuropathy means damage to nerves in the peripheral nervous system, that is, nerves outside of the brain and the spinal cord (it does not include nerve damage in the central nervous system). Neuropathy can feel like a tingling, tickling, numbness or burning in the feet, and can prevent people with diabetes from feeling extreme heat and cold or foreign objects, such as pebbles.
People with poorly controlled diabetes have a much higher level of sugar (glucose) in their bloodstream. Over time, high blood glucose levels damage the blood vessels and nerves. That’s why people who have continually high blood glucose levels are more likely to get neuropathy.
However, you can delay or prevent many complications of diabetes, including neuropathy, by maintaining target glucose levels.
The basics of proper foot care:
- Check your feet every day for cuts, cracks, bruises, blisters, sores, infections or unusual markings.
- Use a mirror to see the bottom of your feet if you can’t lift them up.
- Check the colour of your legs and feet. If there is swelling, warmth or redness or if you have pain, seek medical advice immediately.
- Clean any cuts or scratches with mild soap and water and cover with a dry dressing for sensitive skin.
- Trim your nails straight across.
- Wash and dry your feet every day, especially between the toes.
- Apply a good skin lotion every day on your heels and soles, but remove any excess lotion.
- Avoid extreme cold and heat.
- See a foot care specialist for advice and treatment.
- Cut your own corns or calluses.
- Treat your own in-growing toenails or slivers with a razor or scissors.
- Use over-the-counter medications to treat corns and warts.
- Apply heat to your feet with a hot water bottle or electric blanket.
- You could burn your feet without realizing it.
- Soak your feet for long periods of time.
- Take very hot baths.
- Use lotion between your toes.
- Walk barefoot, either inside or outdoors.
- Wear over-the-counter insoles. They can cause blisters if they are not right for your feet.
- Sit for long periods of time.
- Smoke: smoking decreases the circulation of blood throughout your body (and especially to your legs and feet). As well, smoking slows down the healing of wounds, so if you did develop a wound on your foot, it would not heal as quickly.
Testing your feet
According to the Diabetes Canada’s clinical practice guidelines, people with diabetes should have the sensation in their feet checked at least once per year. This is done by using a monofilament, which is a short piece of nylon – like a hairbrush bristle – mounted on a wand.
By practising proper foot care, and maintaining your blood glucose levels in their target range, you’ll put your best foot forward for years to come!