How to look after your feet if you have diabetes
It's especially important to look after your feet if you have diabetes. Here's how to take care of your feet and advice on when to get professional help.
Diabetes can reduce the blood supply to your feet and cause a loss of feeling known as peripheral neuropathy. This can mean foot injuries do not heal well, and you may not notice if your foot is sore or injured.
"The risk of complications can be greatly reduced if you're able to bring your blood sugar levels under control," says foot specialist Mike O'Neill.
"Ensure that your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are also monitored and controlled with medication if needed."
(foot care) for people with diabetes is one of the most overlooked aspects of diabetes management.
Higher levels of blood glucose can damage the nerve endings in many areas of the body and organs, which is why tight blood glucose control is an essential aspect of diabetes care.
Why is foot health so essential to people with diabetes
- Diabetes causes nerve damage known as peripheral neuropathy
- Diabetes affects the circulation, and poor circulation can affect how the body heals
- People with diabetes are more prone to infection
- Diabetes complications can also affect the feet
- Diabetes can affect the joints and make them stiffer
What happens with poor foot care?
A variety of foot problems can arise when poor foot care fails to catch issues at an early stage. These may include:
- Damage to the foot
- Foot ulcers
- Foot infections
- Charcot’s joints
Don’t forget your podiatrist!
Podiatrists are one of the essential professionals within diabetes care, and have a much underrated role to play in preventing and managing foot complications amongst people with diabetes.
Podiatrists are on hand at every stage, be it prevention, concern about a foot problem, and dealing with genuine problems once they occur.
Stop smoking to protect your feet
If you have diabetes, it's important to try to stop smoking. Smoking impairs the blood circulation, particularly in people with diabetes. It can seriously worsen foot and leg problems.
Read more about how the NHS can help you to stop smoking.
When to see a doctor
Seek treatment from your GP or podiatrist if blisters or injuries do not heal quickly.
You should see your doctor urgently if:
- you notice breaks in the skin of your foot, or discharge seeping from the wound
- the skin over part or all of the foot changes colour and becomes more red, blue, pale or dark
- you notice extra swelling in your feet where there was a blister or injury
- there is redness or swelling around an ulcer or in an area where you've previously been warned to seek immediate attention
You're more prone to foot problems like corns, blisters and foot infections in later life as the skin becomes thinner and less elastic. But painful or uncomfortable feet aren't a natural part of ageing, and can be alleviated.
If you’re having trouble looking after your feet, you're not alone. Age UK reports that nearly one in three older people can’t cut their own toenails.
Foot care problems tend to happen if you're less mobile than you used to be, particularly if you have difficulty bending down. Poor eyesight, can also make it harder for you to look after your feet.
How to look after your feet
Your feet will remain in better condition if you have a regular foot routine. This includes:
- cutting and filing toenails and keeping them at a comfortable length
- smoothing and moisturising dry and rough skin
- checking for cracks and breaks in the skin and inflammation such as blisters
- looking for signs of infection like nail fungus or other obvious early problems, and seeking professional advice
- wearing suitable socks and footwear
- keeping your feet clean, dry, mobile, comfortable and warm. Bedsocks are a good idea
If it's difficult for you to follow this routine yourself, see a professional for help.
Medical foot problems
If you have a specific problem with your feet, see your GP. You don't have to put up with pain and discomfort in your feet simply because you're getting older.
Most foot problems can be treated, which means you will be in less pain and able to move around better.
Find out more about how to look after your feet.