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How to Protect Your Feet When You Have Diabetes

Keeping your feet healthy is critical when you have diabetes. Here are some important tips.

4 pairs of feet in the grass

For most people, a stubbed toe or a scratch on their foot is no more than a nuisance. But if you have diabetes, a minor foot injury can become a bigger problem.

People with diabetes are at increased risk for foot problems. This is because having high blood glucose can damage the nerves of your feet (diabetic neuropathy). This nerve damage can cause pain, but it can also lead to loss of feeling in your feet. When this occurs, it makes it hard to feel heat, cold or pain in your feet if you injure them. Diabetes also causes decreased circulation to the legs, making foot injuries difficult and slow to heal.

To protect your feet, care for them each day and take special precautions to avoid injury. Follow these steps to help keep your feet healthy:

  1. Stop foot injuries before they start
    • Wash your feet daily with warm (not hot) water and soap. Dry them well and then apply lotion. Do not put lotion between your toes. Test the water temperature with your hand or elbow before you put your feet in. Burns can occur without you feeling them.
    • Keep your toenails trimmed; straight across is best to avoid ingrown toenails.
    • Check your feet every day. Examine the bottoms of your feet. Look for red spots, cuts, blisters, bruises, sores or other injuries. If checking your own feet is hard to do, use a mirror or ask someone to help you.
    • Don’t treat an injury to your foot yourself — contact your doctor.
    • Wear comfortable shoes that fit well. Make sure the insides of your shoes are smooth and nothing rubs against your feet. Do not wear open-toe or open-heel shoes.
    • Always wear socks with your shoes.
    • Never walk around barefoot. Keep feet covered with shoes and socks, even when you're indoors.
  2. Increase blood flow to your feet
    • Get moving! Exercise increases circulation and helps control blood sugar levels. Activities like walking, swimming or bicycling may be good choices. Make sure to wear proper shoes that fit well and give your foot support. Always talk to your doctor first before you start or increase activity.
    • Keep your feet elevated when sitting for long periods of time.
    • Wiggle your toes and rotate your ankles for five minutes, two to three times each day, to stimulate blood flow.
    • Don't sit with your legs crossed.
    • Don't smoke. If you do, work with your doctor to quit. Smoking reduces blood flow to your feet.
  3. Work with your doctor
    • Review your foot care routine with your doctor and other members of your diabetes care team.
    • Ask your doctor if you should see a podiatrist (a foot care doctor). If you have foot problems or if you have difficulty caring for your feet, a podiatrist may be an important part of your diabetes care team. You may need to see your podiatrist at least once a year, or as often as your doctor suggests. Your podiatrist will check your feet, trim your nails and care for your calluses and corns. (Never try to remove calluses or corns on your own. This can lead to open sores and infection.)
    • Let your doctor know about any changes in how your feet look or feel.
    • Take off your shoes and socks each time you visit your doctor for a check-up. This lets your doctor check to make sure your feet are healthy. At least once a year, have your doctor perform a complete foot exam.
    • Work with your doctor to control your cholesterol and blood pressure.

Lower your risk of foot problems and other diabetes complications by following your diabetes treatment plan closely. Doing so can help keep blood sugar levels in check, which can help prevent nerve damage.

Note: If you are physically inactive or you have a health condition such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy or other symptoms, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program or increasing your activity level. He or she can tell you what types and amounts of activities are safe and suitable for you.

By Susan G. Warner, Contributing Writer

American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care. Standards of medical care in diabetes 2015. Accessed: October 26, 2015.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Prevent diabetes problems: Keep your feet healthy Accessed: October 26, 2015.
American Diabetes Association. Foot care. Accessed: October 26, 2015.
American Diabetes Association. Foot complications. Accessed: October 26, 2015.

Last Updated: October 26, 2015