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Diabetes and Your Feet

Without proper attention, neuropathy (nerve damage) will affect about 50% of individuals with diabetes. Most at risk are people who have had diabetes for many years, and those diagnosed later in life. Many newly diagnosed seniors have likely had undiagnosed and uncontrolled diabetes for many years.

Proper foot care is important for people living with diabetes

  • Check daily for calluses, cuts or cracks in the skin and look for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, warmth or discharge.
  • Use a mirror, if necessary, to look at the bottoms of your feet.
  • Annual foot exams are a must.
  • Keep your feet clean. Don't apply alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, because they dry out the skin.
  • Be careful when soaking feet in hot water as nerve damage decreases sensitivity to temperature.
  • Never go barefoot outdoors. Wear slippers or socks indoors.
  • Footwear should fit properly. Wear soft, thick socks with no seams. Seams can rub the skin and cause blisters.
  • Rotate the shoes you wear. Don’t wear the same shoes every day.
  • Check your shoes each morning before putting them on. Pebbles or debris can cause a sore. 
  • Apply a non-lanolin cream, free of dyes and fragrance, such as Aveeno, Ceravie and Nivea. Apply regularly with a thin coat to the tops and bottoms of feet, but never between the toes. Thoroughly drying between the toes is important.
  • If you can see and reach your toes, you can cut your toenails. Otherwise have someone else do it.

Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy

Symptoms can range from a tingling or burning sensation to a shooting or stabbing pain. Some people feel weakness in their feet and legs. People living with diabetes should receive an annual exam by a foot specialist. 

Neuropathy treatment

Treatment for painful peripheral neuropathy is aimed at maintaining proper blood glucose levels so that excess glucose in the system doesn't deposit on the small nerves of the hands and feet. Medications are available, however blood glucose control must be achieved to receive the full benefits of medication. Your care team will discuss your specific needs and options.

Other foot issues to be aware of

Hammertoes, bunions, dry skin, and abnormally shaped toenails can also lead to problems. After age 40, the average person will find that shoe size increases up to 1½ sizes. It's important to have your feet measured annually. Wearing the wrong size shoe can cause severe damage for people with diabetes. 

Learn about UMass Memorial Health Podiatry