Diabetes & Foot Problems – Why Do I Get Regular Foot Checks As A Diabetic Anyway?
As a person with diabetes, it can be quite intimidating when you consider how many complications can come as a result of having the condition.
Why, if you’re taking your prescribed tablets or insulin and doing all you can to manage your sugars, do you need regular check-ups that often involve taking blood tests and urine samples?
Why do specialists even test your eyesight or examine your feet? What have diabetes and the health of your feet got in common anyway?
Close examination of your feet is an important way to assess for early complications that can result from elevated glucose levels over an extended period of time.
High blood sugars cause damage to nerves as well as impeding circulation throughout the body, including all the way down to your feet.
Given that our feet take on numerous big challenges everyday – supporting our full body weight when we stand and move around, physically facilitating our forward motion, dealing with the initial impacts as we run and jump – it makes sense that problems within our feet are not only going to be noticeable but likely problematic too.
Sadly, many people with diabetes are either not aware of the risks to their feet or they assume that foot problems are inevitable and just need to be accepted. This is simply not true. With a little understanding and making an effort to factor in some simple daily care, your feet can remain healthy as part of your life with diabetes.
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Avoiding Diabetic Foot Nasties: Prevention Is The Name Of The Game
Put your hand up if you would like painful tingling working its way through the feet and up the lower legs, feeling constantly cold in the lower limbs, experiencing muscle weakness, slow healing of blisters, having ugly and infected foot ulcers, dealing with bunions/extremely dry heels/uncomfortable callusing, worrying over deformed foot structures and the lurking threat of amputation. Anyone?
Knowledge is power, understanding is helpful, and a little effort can go much farther than you might think. When it comes to the many complications that can develop in the feet of people with diabetes, prevention is the name of the game. Invest in your feet, and the above-mentioned list of unpleasant issues may never occur.
Let’s take a closer look on how some routine preventative care can help you avoid those diabetic foot nasties.
1/ Own Your Sugar Levels
Let’s begin by acknowledging that maintaining control of your blood sugar level is not easy. Your diet, your exercise habits, your day-to-day schedule, other medications, other illnesses, and unexpected things that spontaneously slip into what’s going on all impact what your blood sugars are doing. Sometimes it can feel impossible to keep that glucose reading within what’s considered a healthy range, and each time it slips, you may find yourself feeling like you’ve just taken a step closer to impending diabetic complications. Among them, foot problems, too. Yay!
However, there is much that can be done to achieve damage limitation. Planning ahead for your day, aiming for as healthy a diet as possible, getting regular exercise following the necessary adjustments to your medication, educating yourself on what to expect if other medications get added into the mix, following sick day rules when you’re ill, attending your recommended check-ups, utilizing new technology where possible to ease the burden of managing your diabetes – all of these strategies can help you own your sugar levels instead of letting them own you.
Some actions are complex. It may take time and training to get yourself onto a continuous glucose monitoring system (CGM meter), but other tactics, such as a quick sprinkle of cinnamon on your breakfast takes two seconds, while reducing the glycemic load of what you’re eating that morning.
How involved you get with your diabetes and keeping those sugars in check is an entirely personal choice, but every time you try, you’re lessening potential problems in the future. Be assured, your future self will thank you for the effort that you’re making now. Blood sugars that stay within a healthy range will lessen the chances of developing a foot problem related to diabetes, whether that be diabetic peripheral neuropathy, peripheral arterial disease, foot ulcers, or those dreaded amputations.
Own your sugars and aspire to retain two healthy feet and all ten toes. Own your sugars and tell diabetes to go take a hike. It may need some feet for that, but at least they won’t be yours!
2/ Check Your Feet Everyday
Check-ups are a regular feature with your doctors and specialists, making up part of your overall diabetes management, simply because they are very helpful. This is true for two reasons: check-ups not only ascertain how you’re doing in the now, they are also effective at highlighting any potential niggles that, if not dealt with, could become more of an issue later.
But who’s to say that you can’t do some additional self-checks at home? For your feet, this is particularly relevant. Our feet go through a lot every day. We ask a lot of them – we challenge them with the occasional new pair of shoes and the odd resulting blister; we wear light socks; we wear heavy socks. Our feet get wet at the pool and often are not dried properly before we head home, and so on. Your feet are far busier than you may realize!
Although people with diabetes are usually told never to go barefoot, most of us will sneak in a slightly naughty and shoeless crossing of fluffy carpet, cool linoleum, dew-laden grass, and sandy beach either out of laziness or just because it feels good.
The more active our feet are, the more important regular foot checks become, and this is especially true if you’ve developed a lack of sensation underfoot. Small problems quickly become big problems when diabetes gets involved. A blister can become a foot ulcer; a foot ulcer can become infected; infected tissues can become gangrene; and gangrene can lead to amputation. Gangrene killed King Louis the Great (Louis XIV) of France Enough said.
Put simply, don’t ignore your feet. Instead, get to know them by checking them over for just a few minutes a day. Look for small cuts, blisters, dry skin around the heel, discoloration of the skin, anything that looks unusual. Many issues will self-remedy but by checking you can stop a mole hill from becoming a mountain. For example, if you notice that you have a small nick on your foot, it would be wise to conclude that may not be the best day for a spot of wild swimming or grounding outdoors.
For anything that doesn’t self-heal, you’re then in prime position to flag it to a specialist before it becomes a headache. Checking your feet over is one of the simplest ways that you can care for your feet; for a person with diabetes, it is also as a diabetic but one of the most effective. Make it part of your daily routine, and you’ll reap the benefits for years to come.
3/ Prioritize Your Podiatrist
Your podiatrist is someone whom you’ll generally see at least once a year or perhaps more often if you have existing foot issues. If you’re in the first camp, just because your check-up takes place only once annually, don’t dismiss how important this appointment is. Studies have proven that regular attendance at foot check-ups dramatically reduces the chance of developing foot ulcers.
Think of your podiatrist as a highly-tuned weapon against the havoc that diabetes can cause to you and your feet. Your podiatrist has an in-depth understanding of how your feet work, how diabetes can harm them, and how to fight foot complications should they arise.
Make your podiatrist a friend and always ensure to prioritize your appointments at the podiatry department.
To avoid callusing and cracked skin on your feet, use a rich and specially designed skin cream on your feet daily. In turn, this will reduce the chances of an infection that can start when the skin cracks, as well as the pain that results when this happens. Take care to avoid getting moisturizing cream between the toes as this can encourage fungal infections such as athlete’s foot, which is both highly irritating and difficult to get rid of once it takes hold.
When you moisturize regularly, your feet look will not only look healthier, they will feel much more comfortable, too.
5/ Keep Toe Nails In Check
Keeping your toe nails in check with regular but careful trims is recommended. This stops the nails from being pushed in when you’re wearing firm shoes or being active, as well as looking better and generally feeling more comfortable.
The key is to trim nails slowly and cautiously, aiming to avoid accidentally piercing the skin with your clippers while performing routine maintenance. Cut your nails while the surrounding skin is clean but dry as wet skin will incur damage much more easily.
Resist the urge to cut your toe nails too short as this will cause more harm than good, and aim for a flat cut across the top rather than going down the sides too, tackling pesky corners and rough edges with an emery board rather than the clippers themselves.
If ingrowing nails are a problem, consider asking your podiatrist for assistance rather than tackling these yourself.
6/ Good Shoes Are A Worthwhile Investment
Good shoes are a worthwhile investment. We cannot stress this point enough, even for non-diabetics!
Instead of regarding shoes as simply something you must wear, think of them as a protective and supportive addition to your wardrobe. Shoes are easy to disregard – they’re just there right? Wrong!
For sure, shoes certainly make walking on gravel a whole lot more comfortable, but they also do so much more. They protect you from other uncomfortable surfaces underfoot; they protect against sunburn on hot days; they prevent your feet from getting wet and developing blisters on rainy days; they provide padding and support while you bear your own weight; they protect against loose pebbles and unexpected shards of broken glass on the sidewalk.
If you are diabetic, a good pair of shoes serves much like a protective shield. This is why it’s important to buy your shoes with thought and care, much like making an investment. Aim to buy more expensive, higher quality shoes rather than being drawn in by cheap and uncomfortable shoes that will wear out quickly and leave you with buyer’s remorse.
Never rush your shoe shopping and only spend when you are fully satisfied that your chosen shoes will serve you well. Money spent on good shoes will save you encountering many diabetes-related problems elsewhere, perhaps in ways that you’d never considered before.
Having diabetes isn’t a one-way ticket to unavoidable foot problems. There are many simple ways that you can care for your feet and avoid the multitude of complications that tend to arise in people with unmanaged diabetes. Many of the strategies suggested above don’t cost much and don’t take up a lot of time but can help you avoid so many potential foot problems over the years. Your feet don’t have to suffer because you have diabetes. You can choose to walk the other way. We dare you.