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How should diabetics care for their feet?

A woman holds her bare feet while sitting on her bed.

Footcare is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle for anyone, but it is especially important if you have diabetes. If this is the case, you need to take extra care when looking after your feet. But this doesn’t mean that non-diabetic individuals can’t follow these steps as well. Paying extra attention to your foot health can only be a good thing, so keep reading to learn what you can do to take care of your feet.

How to look after your feet with diabetes

If you’ve only recently been diagnosed with diabetes, or you don’t have it yourself but a loved one does, you might not be fully aware of the reasons why foot care is so important. We won’t go into the nitty gritty medical details, but as an overview, diabetes can affect both your blood circulation and your nerves’ ability to feel sensations, including pain.

For those with a loss of sensation, it can be easy to accidentally injure the feet without noticing. Common injuries in this situation include:

  • Scalds from baths, showers and heating pads
  • Blisters from shoes that don’t fit well
  • Physical injuries from falls, trips or other accidents

Being able to feel pain alerts us to such injuries and allows us to take action to mitigate the damage, for example by seeing a doctor or taking off the ill-fitting shoes. But not being able to feel the pain can result in the damage being exacerbated – for example, by keeping your feet in water hot enough to burn the skin. Untreated injuries of this nature can lead to serious complications.

It’s also the case that low blood circulation can affect how well your body heals, as the cells of the immune system are carried around in your blood. Therefore, it’s best to pay special attention to your feet so that you can spot injuries or even avoid them and keep your feet as healthy as possible. Of course, the following tips to do so will apply to anyone who has loss of sensation or low blood circulation, as well as anyone who simply wants to take better care of their feet.

Daily feet check

The first step to look after your feet is to get into the routine of checking them every day. If you want to be especially vigilant, you might wish to do this twice a day – for example, before putting on your socks in the morning and after taking them off at night. Perform a visual inspection of the skin (including the soles of your feet) to check for any cuts, bruises or other injuries. You might need to use a mirror or a friend to help you out.

If you are at risk of losing sensation in your feet, it’s also a good idea to do the Ipswich Touch Test once a day. You’ll need a friend or family member to help you with this. Fortunately, it’s a simple test that only takes a few minutes to complete. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Lie down on your bed or sofa and take off your shoes and socks. Make yourself comfortable.
  2. Your assistant should remind you which leg is your left and which is the right by touching each one and saying which one it is.
  3. Close your eyes and wait for your assistant to begin touching your toes. All you need to do is say ‘right’ or ‘left’ when you feel a touch, depending on which foot you feel the sensation in.
  4. Your assistant should lightly tap the toes with their index finger in the following order:
    1. Right big toe
    2. Right little toe
    3. Left big toe
    4. Left little toe
    5. Right middle toe
    6. Left middle toe
  5. They’ll then write down whether you felt the sensation. If you felt sensation in four or fewer toes, this is a sign you should speak to your doctor about loss of sensation.

Cut your nails carefully

If you have any loss of sensation, it can be very difficult to notice when you injure your feet. Overgrown nails can be a common source of injury, but so can accidentally cutting the skin when you trim your nails. Be extra careful when you do this and ask a friend or loved one to help you if you struggle to do the job yourself. Always check your feet after a nail-cutting session so you can treat any injuries as soon as possible.

Check the fit of your shoes and socks

Ill-fitting shoes can be a common source of injury whether you have diabetes or not. For those with a loss of sensation in the feet, it can be tricky to tell whether or not your footwear fits well.

For socks, check to see how much room there is around your calves at the top of the socks. You should be able to fit a finger into the gap. If the gap is bigger, the socks might fall down a lot. You should also check the fit around your foot by pinching the fabric and seeing how far you can pull it away from the skin. A little leeway is good, but if you can’t pull it away very much, this is a sign that your socks are too tight.

As for shoes, the usual rules apply. Make sure to measure your feet to check what size you need before buying. Then, when you come to wear the shoes, test to see if you can fit a finger between your heel and the back of the shoe when your toes are snug at the other end. It’s also a good idea to try this trick with a finger between your foot and the tongue of the shoe once you’ve fastened it up. This makes sure you’re not tying the laces (or whatever fastenings the shoe uses) too tightly by accident.

Use a daily moisturiser

Washing your feet daily is a good practice to get into, and so is moisturising your feet. This helps to lock in moisture and keep your feet from drying out, which can lead to cracking and other problems. Just make sure not to put cream or talcum powder between your toes, as these substances can clog up and cause excessive dryness or moistness.

Get advice from an expert

Finally, if you ever notice anything at all that you’re not sure about relating to your feet, it’s best to get a professional medical opinion. Your doctor will be able to tell you if it’s something to worry about or not, and if necessary, they can recommend or prescribe treatments.

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