As a podiatrist in Houston, I see many diabetic patients. And they need help keeping their feet healthy and pain free. One of the major diabetic complications is nervous system impairment or neuropathy. This condition can cause you to lose feeling in your feet. So it may take you longer to realize that you’ve sustained a foot injury. And that means even a small cut can turn into a major infection.
Now, carefully managing your disease can prevent complications. But I know it can seem like there’s a lot of work you have to do: following a special diet. Keeping track of your glucose levels. Monitoring your carbohydrate intake, meal sizes and activity levels. Not to mention visiting the top four specialists on your diabetic care team. (Your endocrinologist, podiatrist, dentist and general doctor.)
Still, since minor injuries can quickly become huge problems, tips for diabetic foot care are critical. Some are pretty intuitive. As a diabetic, you should inspect your feet every day. That's how you can see if you have any blisters, scratches, cuts or nail problems.
3 Tips for At-Home Diabetic Foot Care
After daily foot checks, your job isn't done. You should also:
- Trim your toe nails straight across. When you cut into your nails at the corners it can lead to ingrown toe nails. This condition can cause dangerous infections in diabetic patients.
- When you go to bed at night, wear loose fitting socks to sleep. They can keep your feet warm and prevent any foot injuries if you wake up in the middle of the night.
- Quit smoking! Smokers have a decreased blood supply in the feet. And that makes it much more difficult for wounds or infection to heal. Which is something diabetics already struggle with.
Tech to Manage Diabetes
Feeling overwhelmed by your diabetic foot care routines? The good news is that, every day, new and exciting technology is in the works. And it's all designed to help you keep your diabetes in good control. Here are some of the latest innovations we’re watching closely. And getting excited about in my Houston podiatry practice.
Blood Clots that Heal
Here's a crazy but true development in diabetes care: a blood clot that heals diabetic wounds! On its own, your body heals wounds by forming a clot over your injury. That clot should then set off a chain of events that keeps infection away, brings healing blood cells to your wound, and helps your body form new tissue. But when you have diabetes, your body's circulation may be compromised. So your natural clotting process may not heal your wounds. Which is when ulcers may form.
Enter ActiGraft, a manufactured blood clot that helps your body heal. Better yet, with the right equipment, podiatrists like me can fabricate the clot in 12 minutes, using your own blood and a special agent that helps with clotting. Then, you apply the clot to your wound, and it kickstarts your body's natural healing process.
As Alon Kushnir, the CEO whose company invented the clot, explains: “ActiGraft tricks the body into thinking this chronic wound is a new wound that it needs to start healing." And, it's got FDA clearance and is currently available in the United States, giving us another tool to protect your diabetic feet!
App that Works with Alexa
A few years back, the Sugarpod won the Alexa Diabetes Challenge. (The device, at right, includes a scale, foot scanner, and mobile interface. It also comes with Amazon Alexa voice functionality.) Basically, Sugarpod supports type 2 diabetes care plans. It makes it easier to make regular foot screening a part of your daily routine.
Here's how it works, according to Anne Weiler, CEO and co-founder of Wellpepper (the group behind the Sugarpod.) “First thing in the morning, [a user] steps on the scale. It takes her weight and then it also asks if it can take pictures of her feet. Then it puts those through a machine-learning image classifier that looks for problems. It’s basically looking for early indication of diabetic foot ulcers. Diabetic foot ulcers cost the health system $9 billion a year, and people who have them are at greater risk of amputation, hospitalization, and even death.”
I love pretty much everything about this product! Not only does it appeal to my inner-techie, but it also seems like a pretty great way to monitor your diabetes. (Between visits to your wellness team, of course!) Be sure and check this one out! And all the other items making my diabetic tech list.
A Mat that Fights Foot Ulcers
Engineering students at Jackson State University developed a product to prevent ulcers. When researching ways to prevent diabetic foot amputations, the students noted colder foot temperature was a predictor of peripheral nerve damage . Of course, nerve damage makes you lose sensation in your feet. When that happens, wounds may go unnoticed, making ulcers a more likely complication.
Clearly, a drop in foot temperature could set off a chain of diabetic complications. So the students designed a mat to link up to an App that keeps track of daily foot temperatures. If used daily, the mat could act as an early warning system for circulation problems and nerve damage. Then, it could encourage diabetics to schedule their podiatrist visits at the first sign of trouble.
Socks That Work Wonders
Here’s yet another fancy foot detector to help you manage your diabetes. I’m podiatrist-famous for saying, “It all starts with the socks.” And it’s almost always a spot-on statement.
After all, it's true for finding your perfect shoe fit. It’s true for runners. And now, thanks to a bunch of innovative scientists, it continues to be true for diabetics.
Meet the SenseGO ‘smart socks.’ They're designed by a group of students from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. And they detect areas of pressure on your feet, relaying that information to an app on your smart phone.
Remember: when you have diabetes, extra pressure on your feet can result in wounds. And, as we've reviewed, they can become limb-threatening ulcers if left untreated.
These socks are machine washable. But they include dozens of micro-fabricated pressure sensors. They work to detect potential problem areas and send an alert to your phone. While pressure-sensing insoles are already available on the market, these socks find pressure changes all over your foot. And not just on the sole.
The SenseGo socks are not yet available to the public. But there are other types of diabetic socks you can select. And they can also help protect your feet.
Diabetic Socks for Foot Health
- Boost blood flow to your feet.
- Keep your feet dry, to avoid fungal infections.
- Cushion your feet to avoid injury.
Now, lots of brand will market diabetic socks. But they aren't all created equal. So look for diabetic socks that are:
- Seamless, to avoid rubbing.
- Stretchy at the cuffs, to preserve blood flow
- Moisture wicking
- Thicker at the heel or base
Extra Diabetic Sock Tech
You may also find diabetic socks designed to keep your feet warm. As I mentioned before, drops in foot temperature can cause trouble for your nerves. So you can search for socks with special insulation materials.
Not a techie like me? No problem! Remember: daily foot exams and frequent visits with your podiatrist go a long way to protect your feet.
In fact, while technological advances for diabetics are exciting, they're just supportive devices. No piece of tech, no matter how cool it may be, can replace comprehensive exams. Either with your own eyes or with your doctor’s expert gaze.
So, while I celebrate diabetics getting connected, I want to be clear. If you have diabetes, proper foot care can mean the difference between living a healthy life and losing your feet. Follow basic tips like the ones I shared earlier.
Then, keep on track with your quarterly visits to my office. And, if you have any foot pain? Make an appointment to see Dr. Andrew Schneider at Tanglewood Foot Specialists. Right away. Because together, we can come up with a diabetic foot care plan that works for your lifestyle.