How Can a Podiatrist Help Me Manage Diabetes?
Diabetes affects your circulation in a number of different ways, slowing the blood flow and decreasing sensation in your extremities. Because your lower legs and feet are the furthest away from the heart and central nervous system, they’re often the first places that diabetes-related changes begin to show themselves. That’s why finding a good podiatrist and establishing a regular foot care routine is a critical part of diabetes management.
We asked podiatrist Lauren Robinson to explain the basics of foot care for people living with diabetes and what can happen if you don’t keep your feet in good condition.
Why is foot care so important for people with diabetes?
“Many people living with diabetes are surprised to discover there is such an emphasis on footcare, but it makes sense if you think about it. Our feet put up with a lot of stress – they carry our weight around every day, often getting squeezed into ill-fitting or uncomfortable shoes, and are easily scratched and scraped. All of this means you are much more likely to develop wounds, infections and other unpleasant conditions in your feet than other areas of your body.
“Learning how to look after your feet early on is key to avoiding serious complications further down the track,” Lauren said.
What can happen if I don’t look after my feet?
If you fail to maintain a good foot care routine, you may increase your risk of a range of problems including:
Cramping, swelling and pain when walking are all side-effects of poor circulation and can cause considerable discomfort and affect quality of life.
Wounds that won’t heal
Because diabetes lowers your immune system, it makes it much harder for your body to heal wounds – even small, seemingly insignificant cuts can become infected and create problems. Our feet are naturally prone to cracks, scrapes, blisters and calluses, which means they are prime candidates for persistent wounds that refuse to heal.
Depending on your overall health levels and whether other diabetes complications are present, a minor wound can quickly accelerate into a health emergency – if left untreated, there’s a risk you could develop a blood infection (septacaemia), cellulitis or even gangrene.
But before you start to panic, remember that keeping complications at bay is entirely within your control. “The good news is that foot care is easy to manage,” says Lauren. “With just a few minor changes to your routine and a regular checkup with your podiatrist, diabetes-related foot complications are completely avoidable.”
How can I keep my feet in good condition?
According to Lauren Robinson, good foot care starts with following these simple steps:
Book a session with your podiatrist
“One of the first things you should do if you’re newly diagnosed is book an assessment with a podiatrist. We’re trained to diagnose and treat a wide range of leg and foot-related conditions and have an in-depth understanding of how diabetes affects this part of your body. He or she will conduct a series of simple tests before giving you a risk assessment result and some recommendations for treatment and/or self-management.”
“Make sure you’re wearing shoes that are spacious, comfortable and made from leather or natural fibres to minimise bacteria growth and the risk of infection.”
Establish a foot care routine
“Keep toenails clipped and neat (not too short though – that can cause ingrown toenails), moisturise regularly with a fragrance-free moisturiser and make sure you dry well between your toes after showering. If you have limited mobility, enlist the help of a loved one to help you keep your feet in good condition or see your podiatrist on a more regular basis.”
Have regular check-ups with your podiatrist
“If you’re relatively fit and able to perform your foot care routine independently, all you need is an annual check up to reassess your risk factor for foot complications and check that there are no areas of concern. Many podiatrists also do home visits so you can still receive the care you need even if you can’t get to the clinic.”
Lauren Robinson is a Senior Podiatrist with almost 10 years’ experience helping patients manage their diabetes.
She has been engaged by Sanofi to provide regular expert commentary for Diabetes-Care. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the view of Sanofi.