Blisters… cuts… splinters… If you’ve got diabetes, these common foot problems can easily become chronic sores that can lead to something worse. Luckily, these tips can help keep your feet healthy, pampered and protected.
- Wear shoes that fit. It’s all too easy to get stuck with a pair of too-tight shoes. When shopping for shoes, wait until the end of the day, when your feet are at their biggest (feet swell as the day goes on). Pick a style with a roomy toe box. (There should be at least 3⁄8 to ½ inch between the tip of your longest toe and the end of the shoe and when you stand, you should be able to wiggle all your toes easily.) And take note: Shoes that are too big can be as bad as shoes that are too tight. “If the shoe’s too big, your foot will rock in there and you’ll get blisters,” explains Michael Trepal, DPM, vice president for academic affairs at the New York College of Podiatric Medicine in Manhattan. Check that no seams or hard edges are inside the shoes that might cause rubbing or blisters. Choose breathable materials (leather, suede, canvas), not plastic, rubber or vinyl. Ideally, you want a cushioned insole to help decrease pressure on the bottom of the foot.
- Skip high heels. While you can still wear them on rare occasions, high-heeled shoes concentrate your weight in the front of the foot, which can lead to skin breakdown and ulcerations. “The more you can spread out and disperse your weight across the foot, the better,” says Dr. Trepal.
- Avoid cotton and wool socks. All-natural fibers hold moisture, creating a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. Opt instead for seamless, cushioned socks made of man-made microfibers that wick away moisture (find them in sporting goods stores). Socks shouldn’t be tight, especially at the top. Anything constrictive, including compression socks, should be worn only on the advice of a physician.
- Use sunscreen during sandal season. Apply a minimum SPF 30 on both the tops and bottoms of your feet. People with diabetic neuropathy are prone to sunburn because they don’t feel the sun’s rays. At the beach? You could actually burn your feet on the sand if you can’t feel how hot it is. Keep those sandals on and wear swimming shoes in the water to avoid cuts from shells and other objects.
- Treat problems quickly. Found a blister, cut or other opening in the skin (a scrape or a fissure in the heel)? Wash with mild soap and water, then apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment to keep out germs and protect the area from friction. Cover with a bandage and check daily. Bigger blisters may be punctured with a sterilized needle, but talk to your healthcare provider. It’s not a good idea to self-treat corns or calluses. The underlying cause needs to be identified and any cutting or scraping of the skin is best done by a medical professional.
Important: If you see redness expanding around the wound, swelling, pus or darkening tissue, see a doctor or podiatrist immediately. “People with diabetes can get a fairly significant infection quickly,” explains Dr. Trepal. “Diminished circulation makes it hard for white blood cells to get to the area to fight off the infection.”
Treat your feet!
This daily routine makes it easy to refresh, revitalize and keep your feet in the best condition.
Soak. Start with a five-minute soak in soothing lukewarm water with a squirt of a mild liquid soap. Dry your feet thoroughly with a soft washcloth. Look carefully for the first signs of infection—redness, swelling, cuts and blisters—and report anything out of the ordinary to your podiatrist or doctor.
Check your nails. Keep them short. (Long nails rubbing against shoes can separate from the nail bed and become infected.) If they need cutting, do it straight across—rounding the corners could cause ingrown toenails—and run a finger along the edge of your nails to be sure there are no jagged edges or hangnails. Avoid cutting the cuticles; they’re a seal that protects against
Moisturize. Apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly or a skin moisturizing cream everywhere except between your toes. Trapping moisture there could cause athlete’s foot.
Protect. Wear slippers or shoes. Going barefoot inside or outside increases your risk of splinters, small cuts and other injuries.