Special Foot Care for Diabetes

It's not high blood sugar, heart disease, or stroke that most often puts people with diabetes in the hospital. It's their feet.

Foot wounds are the most common diabetes-related cause for hospitalization. Foot wounds in a person with diabetes can also lead to amputation.

Fortunately, people with this disease often can prevent these serious wounds with daily foot examinations.

Here's what you can do to help prevent foot problems:

  • Take care of your diabetes. Work with your health care team to keep your blood glucose in your target range.

  • Look over your feet daily. Check for sores, cuts, bruises, and toenail changes. Use a mirror to look at the bottom of your feet if you need to. Call or see your health care provider if you have cuts or breaks in the skin, have an ingrown nail or if your foot changes color, shape, or becomes less sensitive. See your health care provider immediately if you detect a new sore or if your foot becomes swollen, red, or painful.

  • Wash your feet daily. Use a mild soap and lukewarm water, and dry your feet very carefully, especially between the toes. If the skin is dry, use a moisturizer — but not between the toes since excess moisture there can promote fungal infections. 

  • Wear shoes and socks at all times. Never walk barefoot, even in your home. Wear comfortable shoes that fit well and protect your feet. Check inside your shoes before wearing them to make sure the lining is smooth, and there are no objects inside. If your doctor tells you you’re at high risk for foot problems, he or she may recommend a specific shoe type. Wear soft, thick socks with no seams. Seams can rub and cause blisters. 

  • Exercise. Walking improves circulation and can help control your weight. Be certain to wear properly fitted walking shoes. 

  • Never try to remove corns, calluses, or warts by yourself. Over-the-counter products can burn or damage your skin. Sometimes this damage cannot be repaired. 

  • Don’t smoke. Smoking can cause decreased blood flow to the feet and make wounds heal slowly. Many smokers with diabetes need amputations.

Finally, ask your doctor to check your feet every time you go for a visit. The potential for foot problems leading to major health issues is significant. An annual foot exam is recommended for all people with diabetes. During this exam, your doctor will identify risk factors that can predict ulcers and amputations. Some risk factors are loss of feeling in your foot, foot deformities, and circulation problems. The exam can be done either by your primary care doctor or by a podiatrist, a doctor who specializes in foot care.