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Looking after your feet if suffering from diabetes

24 November, 2014

When it comes to taking care of yourself one of the last areas you think of are your feet, but they are simply too important to overlook. Containing 26 bones (1/4 of the bones in your body are in your feet), a complex framework of 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, your feet are continually absorbing the impact of your body weight and are regularly subjected to skin pressure.

Regular TLC is important in maintaining good healthy feet, but when you suffer from diabetes, extra special care is needed. Foot problems are a common complication associated with diabetes, and your feet can be affected in two ways. Blood supply may be affected, resulting in slower healing, and nerve damage can occur resulting in the loss of feeling in areas of your feet. A person whose nerves are damaged by diabetes may not realise they have minor cuts or blisters and, when left untreated, nasty ulcers can occur.

It can also cause peripheral vascular disease, which is slightly different to vascular disease as it involves a part of the body other than the heart or the brain from receiving too little blood due to reduced circulation. Peripheral vascular disease affects mainly leg and kidney blood vessels, increasing the risk of feet not receiving enough blood.

With severe damage, amputation may even be required.

How to take care of your feet

The first step of caring for your feet as a sufferer of diabetes is to determine what level of risk you fall under. There are two types of risk to feet – high risk and low risk. If you are classed as high risk, it’s important to have your feet checked by a podiatrist every 3-6 months, and if you fall in the low risk category a visit once a year should be sufficient.

As well as having your feet checked by a podiatrist, there are a number of things you can do at home to ensure your feet stay in top condition.

Know your feet well: Familiarise yourself with your feet so you can identify any changes immediately. Wash, dry and check your feet every day, being sure to look for signs of redness, swelling, cuts, pus discharge, splinters and blisters. It’s especially important to check between toes, around heels and nail edges, and at the soles of your feet.

Cut your toenails straight: When cutting your toenails, it’s critical that you take special care not to cut into the corners. Instead, cut nails straight across and use a nail file to gently file away sharp edges.

Moisturise: Keep feet hydrated by applying moisturiser daily. This will help keep the skin from dryness and cracking. Avoid rubbing creams or oils between the toes, which can increase the risk of fungal infection.

Never use over-the-counter-corn cures: Most podiatrists discourage the use of salicylic-acid corn remedies, as when applied improperly these corn “plasters” can create a chemical skin burn in healthy tissue that can result in infection or ulcers.

Only wear clean socks and use stocking that don’t have rough seams: Wear clean, dry socks or non-binding panty hose, which will help protect your feet. Holes in socks or stockings can put damaging pressure on your toes, and socks or stockings should not be too tight.

Wear shoes that fit: Wearing shoes as often as possible will help protect your feet from damage, but they must be the correct fit. Look for shoes that offer a thumb width between your longest toe and the top of the shoe, and avoid open-toe. Before putting shoes on, check for stones, pins or anything else that could harm your feet.

Keep feet away from direct heat: Feet should not be exposed to direct heat such as open fires, heaters or hot water bottles. If going outside bare foot, be sure to wear sunscreen on the top of your feet. When hopping into a bath, check the temperature of the water with your elbow before stepping in.

Improve circulation: Wiggle your toes for five minutes several times a day. Rotate your ankles and put your feet up when sitting. Staying active will also help the blood flow, so ask your health care team about safe ways to be more active, such as swimming or bike riding. Do not smoke! Smoking causes spasms and narrowing of blood vessels.

Seek medical attention with any changes: If you notice any changes in your feet, visit your doctor or podiatrist as early as possible.

If you have any symptoms of or have been diagnosed with peripheral vascular disease, CBHS have programs that can help. We recommend that you contact our Wellness Centre today at wellness@cbhs.com.au for assistance.

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