Article reviewed by Dr. Emily Splichal, DPM

Diabetes and the Foot

Diabetes is a condition that affects the body's ability to process blood sugar. Diabetes affects all areas of your body but has the most significant impact on your lower limbs such as your legs and feet and may limit daily physical activities.

Most people who suffer from diabetes also suffer from neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease. Diabetic neuropathy damages the nerves which impairs the ability to sense feeling. This can have dangerous consequences as not sensing a sore, cut or wound on a foot can lead to infections and complications if left untreated. Having peripheral vascular disease can also increase chances of developing ulcers in the feet as it causes the slowdown of blood flow to the affected area and prolong its healing time.

Symptoms of Diabetes in the Feet

Diabetes in the feet can present itself differently in each person. However, the most common symptoms include the following:

  • Swollen legs and feet that may also include the toes.
  • Loss of sensation and feeling.
  • Tingling in the foot and toes.
  • Burning sensation.
  • Slow healing wounds, cuts and sores.
  • Corns and calluses.
  • Ingrown toenails.
  • Bunions and hammertoes.
  • Foot pain.
About Diabetes

Diabetic Foot Care and Protection

Taking care of your body, especially the feet is crucial to maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle with diabetes. The good news is that most diabetic foot problems can be prevented by implementing a few simple changes in your day to day lives.

  • Look at your feet every day and make sure you don’t see anything new or abnormal on them such as blisters, cuts, cracks, sores, redness, tenderness or swelling. If you do discover a new sore, monitor it to see how long it takes to heal. If it does not get better quickly contact your medical provider as soon as possible. A good tip for making it easier to see the bottom of your feet is by using a mirror.
  • Keep your feet clean and dry. Your feet are closed up in socks and shoes all day and are vulnerable to developing fungus, bacteria, and odor. Wash, but do not soak, them every day in room temperature water. Dry your feet thoroughly, especially in between the toes.
  • Keep your toenails short and smooth and cut them straight across. This will prevent ingrown toenails from developing.
  • If you have calluses, corns or warts on your feet, do not attempt to remove them yourself. Call your medical provider.
  • Always wear shoes, whether you are in the house or outside! Shoes protect your sensitive feet from stubbing, injuries, sharp object penetration and extreme heat and cold. Diabetic shoes offer the most protection and are designed with advanced features for the diabetic foot. To keep your house clean, opt for diabetic slippers.
  • Wear diabetic socks. They will not only promote circulation, and offer a non-binding fit, they are usually super comfortable too!
  • Do not smoke. Smoking can inhibit blood circulation reducing the amount of oxygen in your blood, which can affect your feet.
  • Regularly visit with your medical provider or podiatrist. It is recommended to visit them at least once a year.

Diabetic Shoes and Their Important Features:

If you are a diabetic, it is recommended you only wear diabetic shoes as they are designed with special features that help comfort and protect the diabetic foot. Below is a list of important features you should look for when shopping for the best diabetic footwear.

  • Seam free interior – the loss of sensation will not allow someone with a diabetic foot to feel even a little thread! A seamless interior prevents rubbing and skin irritation. Padded linings – thick cushioning all around the foot protects it from injury. Non-binding uppers with stretch – the diabetic foot is sensitive and can get swollen often. It is imperative not to add any extra pressure or stress that may constrain already compromised circulation. Diabetic shoes designed with stretchable uppers that expand and conform to the specific shape of the foot, offering a comfortable fit and protection.
  • Orthotic insole – diabetic shoes with built in orthotics are even better since they support the arch, align the body and prevent excessive pronation which can lead to injuries and other foot problems. The insoles are usually constructed with shock absorbing materials that cushion the foot and protect it from the daily pounding.
  • Extra depth design – shoes designed with added depth from the heel to the toe promote a pressure free environment and can accommodate foot swelling. There is also enough room to insert a custom orthotic or brace if needed. If you wear padded socks for extra protection, they will also fit comfortably in your shoes.
  • Wide toe-box – a round and tall forefoot area is ideal for maximum toe movement and prevent the toes from overlapping or rubbing against each other. It is also the best for feet with bunions and hammertoes that require a wider area.
  • Extended widths – often the diabetic foot expands which necessitates wide width footwear. Orthopedic companies have the best selection and offer widths from medium up to extra-extra-wide. For the best fit, try on shoes during times when they are most swollen which is usually towards the end of the day.