Diabetic Foot Care: Easy Steps to Healthier Feet
At a diabetes education appointment, we talk about a lot of things. Typically, the patient guides the appointment, and we cover the topics that are important to them, while still focusing on certain key issues, such as checking blood sugar levels, getting exercise, and identifying carbohydrates, for example.
I’ll often ask, “So, how are your feet?”
Some of the patients will know right away where I am going with this question because their physician has already gone through the importance of checking their feet and daily foot care. Others look at me, dumbfounded, and say, “They’re fine. Why do you ask?
So, let’s talk about it.
Why Diabetic Foot Care is Important
Did you know diabetic foot complications account for up to 25 percent of all diabetes-related hospital admissions?
That’s a large high number. This is because when blood sugar levels become out of control, they can wreak havoc on your body, causing a myriad of complications in the lower extremities (not to mention in other areas of the body).
For example, nerve damage, also known as peripheral neuropathy, can lead to decreased nerve sensation. This can then cause decreased circulation.
These two conditions coupled together are a disaster – if you can’t feel your extremities, you may not know that you have a wound, and if you don’t have adequate blood flow to the wound, it won’t heal as quickly as it should.
Daily Foot Checks
Now that you know why it is so important to take care of your feet, let’s discuss how to check your feet!
Follows these steps systematically each time you check your feet:
- Your feet should be bare so that you can examine the entire foot. A good opportunity to perform the exam is before or after showering, or before putting on socks.
- Examine the entire foot – the top of the foot, the bottom of the foot, the sides, the heels, and in between each toe.
- Use a hand-mirror if you can’t see the entire foot, or enlist a friend or family member for help.
- You are looking for anything out of the ordinary – scrapes, bruises, blisters, redness, or cuts. Contact your physician if you notice anything. It may not be anything to worry about, but it is better to err on the side of caution.
Watch out for Common Foot Conditions
Not everyone will experience problems with their legs and feet, but the following two complications are relatively common among people with diabetes:
- Diabetes peripheral neuropathy (DPN). This condition causes damage to the nerves in the feet. The tingling sensation is annoying, but it becomes dangerous when you can no longer feel the pain of scrapes and cuts, since neglecting treatment can lead to major infection.
- Peripheral arterial disease (PAD). This disorder interferes with the circulation of blood and fluid, which can numb the legs and feet. Without proper circulation, your body is not able to heal cuts or bruises as quickly or effectively.
Tips for Washing
The first step to good diabetic foot care is washing your feet properly, which also means knowing what ingredients and techniques to avoid.
Washing your feet seems like a pretty straightforward chore, but there are some things to keep in mind to avoid an unwelcome aftermath. You can stay free of infection, injury, and discomfort if you:
- Maintain water warm: It’s vital that your water remains lukewarm since hot water can irritate or burn your skin without you realizing it. If you have nerve damage, your feet may not be able to sense the heat, so use your elbow to test the water – the temperature should be appropriate for a baby’s bath.
- Use mild soap: Fragrances, exfoliating beads, and ultra-moisturizers are too much for your sensitive skin, so keep your soap natural and fragrance-free. Look for plant-based ingredients, and avoid harsh chemicals like Triclosan (an antibacterial compound), sodium laurel sulfate (SLS) and parabens.
- Dry thoroughly: Damp feet can be a breeding ground for bacteria, plus they will be more prone to cold (which further decreases circulation). Use a soft, absorbent towel to pat your feet dry, paying extra attention to the spaces between toes and any cracks or scratches. Be sure to bandage up cuts or scrapes right away, before they can become infected.
- Don’t soak: It’s fine to dip your feet in a tub for a few minutes, but the longer they soak, the more your skin softens. Once it begins to break down, your skin is much more prone to infection.