When is a stubbed toe not just a stubbed toe? When you have diabetes. Because diabetes affects all parts of the body, a simple cut or scrape may be slow to heal and can turn into a serious infection fast -- especially in the feet or legs.
Anyone with diabetes can develop foot ulcers. These open sores or wounds usually occur on the bottom of the feet over weight-bearing areas. If not treated properly, they can infect deeper tissue and bone, and lead to gangrene and even amputation. People who have diabetic nerve damage called peripheral neuropathy are more likely to have problems such as hammertoes, poor circulation, and a history of foot ulcers.
“Those who develop decreased sensation in the feet from diabetic neuropathy and those who have decreased circulation, particularly arterial circulation, are most at risk,” says Steven Kavros, DPM, who specializes in podiatric medicine and vascular wound care at the Mayo Clinic.
Nerve damage in the legs and feet can make you unable to feel heat, cold, or pain in your feet, so a blister or sore can get worse because you may not know it’s there. And diabetes can also reduce blood flow to your legs and feet, making it harder for such wounds to heal.
Other factors that raise your risk of wound complications are having poor control of blood sugar, having diabetes-related kidney or eye disease, being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol.
The good news for people with diabetes: Managing your blood sugar level, eating a healthy diet, and exercising help slow the progression of diabetes and nerve damage, helping you prevent complications.
5 Foot Care Tips to Prevent Wounds
The best wound care is preventing wounds in the first place. “Once you get to the actual wound, the horse is already out of the barn,” Kavros says. “Preventive care can be as simple as checking your feet every day for red marks, cuts, or bruises.”
Make these five foot-care practices part of your routine:
Inspect your feet daily. Look carefully for blisters and calluses as well as sores and cuts, especially between toes. If it’s hard for you to examine your feet because of arthritis, obesity, or eyesight problems, put a mirror on the floor to help you get a good look or have someone else do a daily check.
Take special care of your feet every day. Wash your feet with warm, not hot, water daily. (Test the water temperature with your elbow first.) Don’t soak your feet. Dry them well, especially between the toes.
Gently file corns and calluses with a pumice stone after you wash your feet. Keep your toenails trimmed to the shape of your toe, filing the edges with an emery board.
High blood sugar levels can cause your body to lose fluid, which can lead to dry, cracked skin. To keep skin from getting too dry, use a small amount of moisturizer daily -- but not between your toes.