Diabetic Foot Care

For people with diabetes, having too much glucose (sugar) in their blood for a long time can cause some serious complications, including foot and skin problems, as well as heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, eye damage, and other problems.

For people with diabetes, however, common foot problems can possibly lead to infection and serious complications, such as amputation. Some common foot problems of people with diabetes includes :

• Athlete’s Foot — Athlete’s foot is a fungus that causes itching, redness, and cracking. Germs can enter through the cracks in your skin and cause an infection. Medicines that kill the fungus are used to treat athlete’s foot. These medicines may be pills and/or creams applied directly to the problem area. Ask your doctor to recommend a medication for athlete’s foot.


• Fungal Infection of Nails — Nails that are infected with a fungus may become discoloured (yellowish-brown or opaque), thick and brittle, and may separate from the bed of the nail. In some cases, the nail may crumble. The dark, moist and warm environment of shoes can promote fungal growth. In addition, an injury to the nail can put you at risk for a fungal infection. Fungal nail infections are difficult to treat. Topical medications are available, but they only help a small number of fungal nail problems. Oral medications may be prescribed by your health care provider. Treatment also may include periodic removal of the damaged nail tissue.


• Calluses — A callus is a build-up of hard skin, usually on the underside of the foot. Calluses are caused by an uneven distribution of weight, generally on the bottom of the forefoot or heel. Calluses also can be caused by improperly fitting shoes or by a skin abnormality. Keep in mind that some degree of callus formation on the sole of the foot is normal. Proper care is necessary if you have a callus. After your bath or shower, use a pumice stone to gently remove the build-up of tissue. Use cushioned pads and insoles. Medications also may be prescribed to soften calluses. DO NOT try to cut the callus or remove it with a sharp object.


• Corns — A corn is a build-up of hard skin near a bony area of a toe or between toes. Corns may be the result of pressure from shoes that rub against the toes or cause friction between the toes. Proper care is necessary if you have a corn. After your bath or shower, use a pumice stone to gently remove the build-up of tissue. Do not use over-the-counter remedies to dissolve corns. DO NOT try to cut the corn or remove it with a sharp object.


• Blisters — Blisters can form when your shoes keep rubbing the same spot on your foot. Wearing shoes that do not fit properly or wearing shoes without socks can cause blisters, which can become infected. When treating blisters, it’s important not to "pop" them. The skin covering the blister helps protect it from infection. You also may use an antibacterial cream and clean, soft bandages to help protect the skin and prevent infection.


• Bunion — A bunion forms when your big toe angles in toward the second toe. Often, the spot where your big toe joins the rest of the foot becomes red and callused. This area also may begin to stick out and become hard. Bunions can form on one or both feet. Bunions may run in the family, but most often they are caused by wearing high-heeled shoes with narrow toes. These shoes put pressure on the big toe, pushing it toward the second toe. The use of felt or foam padding on the foot may help protect the bunion from irritation. A device also may be used to separate the big and second toes. If the bunion causes severe pain and/or deformity, surgery to realign the toes may be necessary.


• Dry Skin — Dry skin can result if the nerves in your legs and feet do not get the message from your brain (because of diabetic neuropathy) to sweat, which keeps your skin soft and moist. Dry skin can crack, which can allow germs to enter. Use moisturizing soaps and lotions to help keep your skin moist and soft.


• Foot Ulcers — A foot ulcer is a break in the skin or a deep sore, which can become infected. Foot ulcers can result from minor scrapes, cuts that heal slowly or from the rubbing of shoes that do not fit well. Early intervention is important in treating foot ulcers. Ask your health care provider for advice on how to best care for your wound.


• Hammertoes — A hammertoe is a toe that is bent because of a weakened muscle. The weakened muscle makes the tendons (tissues that connect muscles to bone) shorter, causing the toes to curl under the feet. Hammertoes can run in families. They also may be caused by wearing shoes that do not fit properly (are too short). Hammertoes can cause problems with walking and can lead to other foot problems, such as blisters, calluses, and sores. Splinting and corrective footwear can help in treating hammertoes. In severe cases, surgery to straighten the toe may be necessary.


• Ingrown Toenails — Ingrown toenails occur when the edges of the nail grow into the skin. Ingrown nails cause pressure and pain along the nail edges. The edge of the nail may cut into the skin, causing redness, swelling, pain, drainage, and infection. The most common cause of ingrown toenails is pressure from shoes. Other causes of ingrown toenails include improperly trimmed nails, crowding of the toes, and repeated trauma to the feet from activities such as running, walking, or doing aerobics. Keeping your toenails properly trimmed is the best way to prevent ingrown toenails. If you have a persistent problem or if you have a nail infection, you may need a health care provider’s care. Severe problems with ingrown nails may be corrected with surgery to remove part of the toenail and growth plate.


• Plantar Warts — Plantar warts look like calluses on the ball of the foot or on the heel. They may appear to have small pinholes or tiny black spots in the centre. They are usually painful and may develop singly or in clusters. Plantar warts are caused by a virus that infects the outer layer of skin on the soles of the feet. DO NOT use over-the-counter medications to dissolve the wart. If you are not sure if you have a plantar wart or a callus, let your health care provider decide.


Can these foot problems be prevented?

Proper foot care can help prevent these common foot problems and/or treat them before they cause serious complications. Here are some tips for good foot care:

  • Take care of yourself and your diabetes. Follow your doctor’s advice regarding nutrition, exercise, and medication. Keep your blood glucose level within the range recommended by your doctor.
  • Wash your feet in warm water every day, using a mild soap. Do not soak your feet. Dry your feet well, especially between the toes.
  • Check your feet every day for sores, blisters, redness, calluses or any of the other problems listed above. If you have poor blood flow, it is especially important to do a daily foot check.
  • If the skin on your feet is dry, keep it moist by applying lotion after you wash and dry your feet. Do not put lotion between your toes. Your doctor can tell you which type of lotion is best to use.
  • Gently smooth corns and calluses with an emery board or pumice stone. Do this after your bath or shower, when your skin is soft. Move the emery board in only one direction.
  • Check your toenails once a week. Trim your toenails with a nail clipper straight across. Do not round off the corners of toenails or cut down on the sides of the nails. After clipping, smooth the toenails with an emery board.
  • Always wear closed-toed shoes or slippers. Do not wear sandals. Do not walk barefoot, even around the house.
  • Always wear socks or stockings. Wear socks or stockings that fit your feet well and have soft elastic.
  • Wear shoes that fit well. Buy shoes made of canvas or leather, and break them in slowly.
  • Protect your feet from heat and cold. Wear shoes at the beach or on hot pavement. Wear socks at night if your feet get cold.
  • Maintain good blood flow to your feet. Put your feet up when sitting, wiggle your toes and move your ankles several times a day.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking makes blood flow problems worse.
  • If you have a foot problem that gets worse or won’t heal, contact your doctor for advice and treatment.
  • Make sure your diabetes doctor examines your feet during each check-up.
  • See your podiatrist (foot doctor) every two to three months for check-ups, even if you don’t have any foot problems.