A visit with the podiatrist, or foot doctor, brought home to me the fact that diabetes self-management does not stop with blood sugar checks and diet changes. The complications that can come along with diabetes force us to give our feet some extra attention.
Nerve damage, or neuropathy, means that your feet may hurt or become numb, your skin may become dry, and fungal infections may be more likely to develop. So what should you do?
Controlling your blood sugar and getting some regular exercise are the frontline defenses against nerve damage, but there are other things you can do as well. It is comforting to know you can improve and even reverse painful problems affecting your feet.
Pain in the soles of your feet
Do you have a stabbing or burning pain along the bottom of your foot? That is often caused by a condition known as plantar fasciitis (in which a thick band of tissue called the plantar fascia at the bottom of the foot becomes inflamed), and there are simple exercises that can improve it. One activity the Mayo Clinic recommends is described below:
Sit down, grip your toes, and gently pull them up and toward you until you feel a stretch in the arch of your foot. Work on the feet separately, holding each stretch for 30 seconds (without bouncing). To improve arch strength, place a towel on the floor, then grab it with your toes and pull it toward you. Repeat the exercise with the other foot.
You can also try using a wooden foot roller, available online, in some pharmacies, and in foot-care catalogs. Rolling your foot over one of these stretches the plantar fascia, easing the pain. A glass soda bottle will work, too, if you have one.
Inspecting your feet — a daily necessity
It is extremely important to inspect your feet every day. Use a bright light and check between the toes and over the bottoms of your feet.
If you cannot bend enough to do this and have no one else to do it for you, try a mirror on a long swivel handle. This product is available in home-care catalogs and medical equipment stores, as well as online.
Look for red spots, cuts, swollen areas, and blisters. If you do find a blister, never try to break it open. Simply wash it gently with warm water and soap, then cover it with gauze and medical tape or a loose wrap. Do not use a bandage.
As soon as you can, show the blister to a medical professional. Any red spot, streaking, rubbed area, blister, or other foot issue needs to be seen and taken care of quickly. Blisters and sores have led many a person with diabetes down the road to amputation, so never ignore these ailments.
Do not try to take care of problems in your feet with over-the-counter remedies. I learned this the hard way: After developing a sore spot on the ball of my foot, I self-diagnosed it as a wart and bought some wart remover.
When this did not work, I went to my podiatrist, who told me it was a splinter. He removed it easily, put me on an antibiotic, and told me to never, never again use anything caustic on my feet or diagnose such things myself.
• Keep your skin warm and dry, and moisturize it every day (but do not put moisturizer between the toes). Dry skin can crack, allowing infections to enter.
• Do not use harsh antiseptics on your feet.
• Do not use antibiotic cream on your feet without consulting a medical professional first.
• Do not use the corn and callus removers you find at the store. They are caustic.
• Never use hot water to soak or wash your feet because it dries out your skin and can cause a burn. Use warm water only.
The good news
I know from personal experience that pain from nerve damage and other problems in the feet can be healed. Yes, because we have diabetes, it takes longer, which is another reason to be extra careful, following professional advice and doing our daily diabetes chores.
Wear your special diabetes shoes, do not go barefoot, inspect your feet every day, use a good moisturizer, and go to your podiatrist for nail trimming and diagnosing problems. If you do these things, your feet will be happier.
But the most important thing you can do to lower your risk for diabetic complications is to exercise regularly and keep your blood sugar readings as close to the recommended ranges as you can.
None of us do all of this perfectly, but we keep trying because there are people around us who care; because we still have things to accomplish, dreams we have not achieved. My hope is that keeping your feet happy will help you get where you want to go.
I would love to know whether any of this helps you.