If you have diabetes, I'm sure you know that proactive foot health is important. In fact, I tell anyone with diabetes to schedule regular check-ups with me in my Houston podiatrist office. But let's face it. You can't come see me every day. (I mean, you could. But we'd probably get sick of each other.)
At the same time, your feet face risks every single day. And that's why the self-care you perform in-between visits is crucial for maintaining your health. Want some guidance on staying healthy between your quarterly visits? Here are my top 10 tips for maintaining your diabetic foot health at home:
Check your feet daily. This means looking to see if you have cuts, blisters, bruises, cracked skin, swelling and/or color changes. Why is this my number one tip? Well, when you have diabetes, you may lose feeling in your feet. (More about that later.) So, without a daily inspection, you could be unaware that your feet are cut. Then, since diabetes can also limit blood flow to your feet, those cuts could get infected. And that could leave you vulnerable to ulcers, limb-threatening wounds that won't heal. Obviously, looking at your whole foot every day is much better options. Be sure to use a mirror to inspect the soles of both your feet. (Or ask a friend or loved one for help if you can’t see well.) Immediately report any changes to your doctor.
- Avoid walking barefoot, even around the house, to protect your feet from injury. I know that sounds extreme, but it goes back to what we just discussed. If you've lost sensation in your feet, you could step on something sharp in your house and not realize the problem. Again, that could increase your risk for ulcers. So it's much safer to just invest in a great pair of slippers for the home. (P.S. that will also lower your risk for heel pain!)
- Before putting on your shoes, carefully inspect them for any rough spots, stones or sharp edges that could hurt your feet. Don’t buy shoes with inside seams. And, if you're dealing with frequent foot concerns, talk to me about prescription diabetic shoes.
- Wear socks whenever possible to keep blisters at bay. Wash socks every day. And be choosy about the kinds of socks you wear. I prefer pairs that wick moisture away from your feet. Because they'll prevent blisters and Athlete's foot better than other pairs.
- Wash your feet with soap and water every day, making sure to clean between the toes as well. Always dry well afterwards, to prevent unwanted fungal infections.
- Moisturize your feet daily with a non-allergic cream or lotion. Remember that dry diabetic feet need extra love. So you may want to choose a product containing urea for extra hydration. When applying, pay special attention to your heels. But skip the skin between your toes as the moisture could cause blisters.
- Invest in an orthotic device, especially if you have flat feet or other structural foot concerns. These medical devices can take pressure off trouble spots on your feet. In this way, they can help keep you safe from ulcers.
- Engage in regular, gentle exercise. I'll need you to get your doctor's approval first. And I'll have to sign off on your footwear to make sure it's appropriate for your activity level.
- Test hot water with your elbow before submerging your feet. (This applies to baths, showers, or even home pedicures.) As I mentioned, neuropathy may make your feet less sensitive to heat. So if you don't test your water first, you could be at risk for serious burns.
- Quit smoking! Nicotine will impact blood flow, which can already be compromised by diabetes.
Now you've got the basics down, let's get more specific (but still simple) with our guideline to caring for your diabetic feet.
How to Perform a Diabetic Foot Exam at Home in 4 Easy Steps
1. Gently clean your feet with soap and warm water.
2. Take a seat on a bed, chair, or toilet in a well lit area, with both of your legs hanging comfortably in front of you. Lift one foot onto your opposite leg so you can see the whole foot, but keep the supporting leg as relaxed as possible.
3. Carefully dry your foot, taking special care to pat down the area between your toes.
4. Rotate your foot so you can see the sole of your foot and begin your scan there. If you aren’t particularly flexible, you may need to use a handheld mirror to see all the hard-to-reach spots.
Ok, so I've got you covered in terms of how to look at your feet. But, that information is pretty useless...yes, I get it...if you don't understand what, exactly, you're supposed to be searching for. So, what that in mind, please bear with me and keep reading through this post!
What to Look for in a Diabetic Foot Exam, by Foot Section
On the balls of your feet: look for bumps and irregular textures, as this area is prone to developing calluses or corns. Proper-fitting footwear can reduce your risk.
On your heels, look and feel for dry, rough, or cracked skin. Even small cracks can leave you open to infection. To stay safe, moisturize daily with odorless, colorless lotion. You may want to make this ritual the closing move of your exam, so you never forget. And don't moisturize between your toes; bacteria love warm, moist places. Now we've made your foot care routine a bit easier, let's talk dining out!
Now, while I'd like to think that this blog was fairly instructive, I know that even I'm not perfect. So, if you've still got questions. I've still got more answers: you've just got to come in and see me! Just schedule an appointment, and I'll help educate you on the basics of diabetic foot care--and beyond! Plus, I'll take care of that bi-annual in-office foot exam while we're at it. Don't you love killing two birds with one stone? I know I do!