Caring for your diabetic feet

According to Diabetes Australia, on any given day, approximately 280 Australians will develop diabetes. That’s one person every five minutes. What makes this statistic every more confronting is every year in Australia there are more than 27,600 hospital admissions for diabetes-related foot ulcers, many of which end with people having a limb, or part of a limb, amputated. Annually, more than 1700 people with diabetes die as a direct result of foot ulcers and lower limb wounds. 

Looking after your feet

When you have diabetes, you need to take special care of your feet every day. Your feet are at risk because diabetes can damage the nerves in your feet, affect your blood circulation, and increase your risk of infection. Having diabetes can increase your risk of foot ulcers and amputations. This damage is more likely if: 

  • You have had diabetes for a long time 
  • You are inactive 
  • Your blood glucose levels have been too high for an extended period of time 
  • You smoke (smoking causes a reduction in blood flow to your feet therefore resulting in slower wound healing). 

Foot care is very important and is something you can do for yourself to prevent serious complications. Did you know that 85% of diabetes-related amputations are preventable if problems are detected early and managed appropriately? People with diabetes should be visiting their Podiatrist annually for a check-up or more frequently if their feet are at high risk. 

Daily foot checks

As a diabetic, it is important you check your feet every day. Early detection is key in the prevention of the more serious complications associated with diabetes. 

If you see any of the following, seek medication attention that day: 

  • Ulcer 
  • Blisters 
  • Unusual swelling 
  • Redness 
  • Elevated temperature 
  • Change in foot shape 
  • Bruising or cuts 
  • Ingrown toe nails 

If you see any of the following, seek medication attention within 7 days: 

  • Callous 
  • Corns 
  • Cracked skin 
  • Broken skin between the toes
  • Nail colour changes 

Blood supply

In people with diabetes, if high blood glucose levels are experienced for an extended period, blood vessels can become damaged which can lead to plaque formation in the blood vessels making then unable to deliver a sufficient amount of blood to neighbouring cells. This makes people more prone to infection following any injury that breaks the skin. Signs of poor blood supply include: 

  • Cuts which are slow to heal 
  • Feet feeling cold 
  • Feeling looking a reddish-blue colour 
  • Sharp leg cramps after walking short distances 
  • Pain or cramping in the feet or calves, even at rest. 

Nerve damage

Diabetic neuropathy is a serious and common complication of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. It is a type of nerve damage caused by long-term high blood sugar levels. The condition usually develops slowly. Some symptoms include: 

  • A pins and needles, tingling sensation in the feet 
  • Numbness 
  • Coldness of the legs 
  • Burning pains in the legs and feet. 

As these symptoms can result from a loss of sensation in the feet, this increases the risk of accidental damage because you are unable to feel any pain, quite often leaving these injuries undetected and therefore prone to infection and further deterioration. 

Podiatry foot checks

A podiatrist can carry out an easy and painless examination on your feet to determine whether your feet are at low or high risk of developing any serious, diabetes-related problems. Low risk feet have normal sensation and good blood flow, whereas high risk feet are people who have had a foot ulcer or amputation in the past and therefore are at higher risk of complications. 

A podiatrist diabetic foot assessment will include looking at the following: 

  • Sensation and reflexes (nerves) 
  • Blood flow to the feet (circulation) 
  • Toe nails (thickened, ingrown, and fungal nails) 
  • Skin integrity (callouses, corns, cracks or infections) 
  • Unusual foot shapes (for example, bunions and claw toes). 

It is important all diabetics have a podiatry foot assessment once every 12 months at MINIMUM. People with high-risk feet may be required to have the assessment performed more frequently, every 3-6 months. 

Tips for healthy feet

In addition to seeing your podiatrist regularly, you should also: 

  • Maintain healthy blood sugar levels, as directed by your Doctor. 
  • Maintain a healthy, balanced diet as directed by your Dietician. 
  • Exercise regularly as this improves circulation and is an essential component of both good health and diabetic control. 
  • Stop smoking and reduce your alcohol intake. 
  • Know your feet well – wash, dry and check your feet every day. Look out for any redness, swelling, cuts, discharge, blisters or splinters. 
  • Have your feet checked by a podiatrist at least once a year. 
  • Cut your toenails straight across, not into the corners, then gently file any sharp edges. If you are unable to do this yourself, ask someone for help. 
  • Moisturise your feet daily to avoid dry skin, but avoid putting moisturiser between the toes. 
  • Wear clean socks or stockings that aren’t too tight and don’t have any rough seams. 
  • Seek medical advice early if you notice any change or problem. 

Here at Riverside Podiatry, we pride ourselves on thorough examination and care as well as patient education. If you are due for your diabetic foot assessment or have noticed any problems, call us on 43239100 to book an appointment or book online.