Living with diabetes – Looking after your feet

Myth “I will know if my nerves are damaged because my feet will be more painful”

Truth When the nerves to your feet become damaged, this alters your ability to feel what’s happening to them. You might get different sensations from normal, such as tingling, but in general you will have less feeling, so burning or damaging your feet won’t cause you much pain. The amount of pain you have is not a good indication of whether you have nerve damage.

Why do I need to look after my feet?

Over time, diabetes can reduce the efficiency of your blood circulation and nervous system, which can affect many areas of your body, including your feet. This makes you more prone to foot ulcers and other injuries, all of which can become infected. You can prevent serious problems by looking after your feet carefully.

If there is something wrong with my feet, will they be painful?

Not necessarily – if the nerves supplying your feet have been damaged, you may have reduced sensation. You may experience tingling feelings in your feet, but not be aware of an injury or other problem until it is quite advanced. Checking your feet all over every day is the only sure way to tell if something is wrong. You may need to enlist someone else’s help if you can’t do this yourself, for example, if your eyesight is poor or you have problems bending to reach your feet.

How should I look after my feet?

Below foot care tips show you how to check, wash, dry, and moisturize your feet on a day-to-day basis. In addition to this, taking precautions such as outside or in unfamiliar surroundings, will help prevent you from damaging your feet.

Can I cut my toenails myself?

Yes. However, if you have reduced feeling or circulation in your feet, check with your doctor whether you can cut your nails safely. If you can’t bend to cut your nails, or they are too thick, you may need help.

What sort of footwear do I need?

Try to avoid wearing tight or restrictive socks or panty hose. It’s also a good idea to avoid pointed toes and high heels for everyday wear – your footwear should not rub or cramp any areas of your feet. Check inside your footwear to make sure there are no sharp objects sticking through the soles.

What should I do if I have a blister?

Try to leave blisters alone. Don’t pop them, and avoid putting pressure on them. If a blister bursts, cover it with an adhesive bandage and keep checking it to make sure it heals. Consult your doctor if a blister is not healing properly.

Do I need to take any special precautions when I go hiking?

It’s a good idea to invest in a pair of good quality shoes or boots that support the length and width of your feet. Leather is an ideal material since it molds to the shape of your feet. Check your feet carefully before you go hiking and when you come back. It’s useful to take a basic first aid kit in case you get a blister.

When should I seek professional help for foot injuries?

All but the most minor foot problems should be treated by a health professional. You can treat athlete’s foot by yourself at home using an antifungal cream or powder, but you should seek help for all of the following; corns, ingrown toenails, hard or cracked skin, sore areas that don’t seem to be healing, bruising or discoloration, and any loss of feeling in any part of your foot.

Can I put a hot water bottle on my feet?

It’s not advisable to put your feet against any direct source of heat, whether it’s a hot water bottle or a radiator, because of the risk of burns. If your feet get cold in bed, wear a pair of loose-fitting socks.

Day-to-day foot care

A good foot-care routine will help you keep your feet healthy. Carry out this procedure every day, allowing plenty of time to thoroughly check your feet for injuries and problems, to help you find potential problems early on.

1. Wash your feet daily in warm water, using a mild soap. Avoid soaking your feet for more than 10 minutes, however, because this can dry out the skin.
2. Dry your feet carefully, especially in between your toes. Now check for tender areas, bruising, and cuts or hard or cracked skin on the top and on the soles of your feet. Trim your toenails when you need to. Cut them to the shape of and level with the end of your toe. Don’t cut them too short and don’t’ stick sharp instruments down the side of a nail.
3. Apply an unperfumed moisturizing cream to your feet, paying attention to the skin between your toes and any hard skin on your soles.

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