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You can develop problems with your feet because of diabetes.

Diabetes can affect the nerve endings and blood supply to your feet over time. You may not even notice this happening.

The best way to prevent this is to keep your blood glucose to the level recommended by your GP and examine your feet every day.

Contact your GP or practice nurse if:

  • there is a change in colour or sensation in your feet
  • you notice an unexplained foot swelling, break in skin or discharge

Every day care of your feet

Check your feet every day

Look at the sole of your foot, around your heels and between your toes every day. If this is difficult to do, use a mirror or ask someone else to check for you.

Check for:

  • hard skin
  • cuts
  • corns
  • blisters
  • spots
  • any red or swollen area

You are looking for any change from the previous day.

Do not try to remove any hard skin or corns. A podiatrist will do this for you.

Wash your feet every day

Use warm water, mild soap and a cloth to clean your feet in the same way you would wash your face. Do not soak your feet, soaking them will dry out your skin.

Do not use hot water. Check the temperature of the water by using your elbow to avoid scalding your foot.

Hot water does not help warm cold feet.

Dry Your Feet Thoroughly

Dry between your toes. The skin between your toes can be delicate and split easily. Use a soft towel to dry gently or if it is difficult for you to separate your toes, use a cotton bud.

Keep your skin soft

With diabetes, the skin can become very dry. Rub a small amount of emulsifying ointment on the top, heel and bottom of your feet. 

Do not moisturise between your toes.

If you notice breaks in the skin between your toes, contact your nurse, GP or podiatrist.

Do not walk in your bare feet

Always wear shoes to protect your feet. Get into the habit of putting on your shoes as soon as you get out of bed.

Walking in your bare feet may cause you harm by stepping on something sharp. Even the smallest cut may cause a problem.

Toenails

When you cut your toenails make sure to cut them straight across. Do not cut down the sides of the toenail. Do not cut them too short.

If you cannot see very well do not cut your toenails, ask a carer or family member to cut and file them for you.

Use an emery board to remove rough edges. If you have painful toenails or swelling and redness around your nail, contact your podiatrist or GP.

Blisters and minor cuts

Clean cuts by bathing your foot in freshly boiled and cooled water and apply an antiseptic cream. Use a sterile dressing and micropore paper tape to cover the area. You can get these in a pharmacy.
Change the dressing and check how it's healing each day. If the cut is not improving, contact your GP, nurse or podiatrist.

Do not burst blisters.

Blood flow

Avoid sitting for long periods.

Try to get up and move every half hour. Walking improves the blood supply to your feet.

Encourage good blood flow to your feet. Exercise your leg muscles when sitting. Move your feet in circles, clockwise and then anticlockwise.

Footwear

Footwear tips if you have diabetes

Avoid:

  • Pointed-toed shoes
  • Slip-on shoes
  • High heels
  • Patent leather which does not stretch
  • Leather or hard plastic soles

Check inside your shoes before putting them on for sharp objects, grit or rough edges. Check the soles to make sure there are no holes, glass or nails on them.

Choosing good shoes

When buying new shoes:

  • choose soft, cushioned or seamless leather-upper shoes with good support around the arch of your foot
  • choose a good fit that is broad and deep enough for your foot, with a lace or soft strap to fasten
  • have your feet measured regularly by a qualified shoe-fitter. These are available in most good shoe shops

Avoid heavy stitching or heavy buckles or straps that could damage your skin.

If they are not comfortable in the shop do not buy them.

Wear new shoes for 30 minutes around the house and then check your feet for any areas of redness. Gradually extend the length of time you wear them and examine your feet after taking them off.

Socks

Wear clean socks that fit well and are not too tight. You should have no marks on your legs from your socks.

Your socks should be made of natural fibres such as cotton. Avoid nylon as much as possible.

Check inside your socks before wearing them for anything that might damage your feet.

If your feet are cold in bed, wear bed socks. Try not to use hot water bottles as they may burn the skin on your feet.

Foot care on holidays

  • Avoid walking barefoot on the sand, in the seawater or by the pool.
  • Avoid wearing flip flops or new shoes which may cause cuts or blisters.
  • Avoid sunburn by applying high factor sun cream to all areas of your feet, except between your toes.
  • Your feet may swell in the hot weather and shoes may become tighter. This can cause cuts or blisters.
  • Check all areas of your feet at the end of every day. Bring a mini first aid kit with some dressings and antiseptic cream in case you get a cut or blister on your foot.

Things to help with your foot care

  • Keep a regular check of your blood glucose levels.
  • Ask an appropriately trained health care professional to check your feet at least once a year.
  • Do not sit with your legs crossed. This could damage blood vessels in your legs and reduce the blood supply to your leg.
  • Do not use over the counter corn or verruca remedies. Your podiatrist will treat any hard skin or corns on your feet.
  • Never use foot spas.
  • Never use circulation boosters.
  • Do not sit too close to fires or radiators. If your feet are cold, wear bed socks.
  • Do not smoke - smoking increases your risk of poor circulation.

When to look for medical help

Contact your GP, podiatrist or nurse if you have:

  • pain in your feet
  • numbness of your feet
  • cold feet
  • pins and needles in your feet
  • a burning feeling in your feet

Get immediate medical help if:

  • you find a cut or break in the skin
  • any part of your foot or leg becomes red, painful, hot, or swollen
  • you find your sock wet or notice fluid oozing from under hard skin or from a toenail
  • your blood sugars are very low or very high for no obvious reason

Foot Care information leaflets for patients with diabetes

page last reviewed: 12/11/2020
next review due: 12/11/2023

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