One of the secondary risks of diabetes is foot complications and ailments. These include neuropathy, a nervous system impairment that reduces sensation to pain, and poor circulation, which reduces blood flow and can cause wounds to heal more slowly. According to the Joslin Diabetes Center, 25% of diabetics will suffer from some sort of foot complications. These can get serious; neuropathy, for example, can lead to nerve damage and deformities like hammer toes and Charcot foot. Small cuts or blisters may go unnoticed and, combined with poor blood flow this can lead to ulcerations, infections, unhealed wounds, even amputation.
These complications make it especially important for people with diabetes to inspect their feet every day. The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society recommends the following routine:
- Look for scratches, puncture wounds, redness, bruises, blisters and any other injury or abnormality.
- Feel your feet for swelling.
- Look between your toes.
- Inspect 6 areas of the bottom of your feet: tip of big toes, base of middle toes and little toe, heel, the ball of your foot and the outside edge of your foot.
- Check each foot for lack of sensation.
If any of these conditions are present, contact your doctor immediately.
Who’s Most at Risk?
Complications like these usually don’t occur right away, but after someone has had diabetes for 10 years or more. However, poorly controlled diabetes can cause complications to occur sooner. Risk factors include the following:
- Pre-existing foot abnormalities like severe high arches or flat feet
- Being very tall or overweight
- The existence of calluses or corns
- A previous diagnosis of arterial insufficiency or neuropathy
- The existence of Charcot foot
How Orthotics and Orthotic Shoes Can Help
Proper footwear should be part of a treatment program, even in the early stages of diabetes. And, if neuropathy or other complications are present, special footwear is crucial. One of the best ways you can protect your feet from diabetic complications and ease diabetic foot pain is by wearing orthotics or orthotic shoes.
Orthotics are specially designed molded inserts worn inside shoes. They can be made of plastic, leather, cork or rubber and are usually rigid. They reduce pressure on the foot and shock absorption, which in turn reduces the likelihood of skin ulcers or bone deformities. By slightly changing the angle at which the foot hits the ground, orthotics change the alignment of the foot, which reduces the pressure put on it. In fact, in a study cited by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, patients with history of foot ulcers were followed for two years. Those using orthotics had a reduced rate of re-ulceration, from 79% down to 15%.
For diabetics who suffer from neuropathy or arterial insufficiency or for those whose blood sugar is uncontrolled, orthotic shoes can play a big role in both treatment and easing of symptoms. Diabetic shoes have several specific features:
- Made of soft leather or other soft stretchable material
- Deep toe box to accommodate swelling or bone deformities like bunions and hammer toes
- Extra depth and width
- Protective toe and heel
- Breathable material or some sort of ventilation
- A cushioned sole for better shock absorption
Diabetic shoes relieve pressure and reduce shock. They also support and slow the progression of deformities like Charcot foot. And if possible, they should limit joint movement to relieve pain and inflammation.
In the past, people with diabetes and other foot ailments have been limited to unfashionable, ungainly footwear. But today, orthotic footwear is more mindful of style as well as comfort. Ames Walker has a broad collection of styles for men and women.
Tips for Taking Care of Diabetic Feet
- Don’t walk barefoot. With decreased nerve sensation, you may miss small cuts or scrapes that can lead to serious infection.
- Wash your feet with warm water and mild soap. Then dry gently, including between the toes.
- Keep your feet warm and dry. Wear socks to bed and keep your feet from getting wet in rain or snow. If they do get wet, gently dry them and put on dry socks and shoes.
- Use moisturizing lotion to keep feet soft.
- Don’t smoke. It lessens the delivery of oxygen to the body and, combined with diabetes, increases the risk of amputation.
A foot care routine can go a long way towards preventing serious problems. And something as relatively simple as wearing orthotics or orthotic shoes may provide significant benefits.