Answering your Questions on Diabetes and Feet

Around 1.7 million Australians are currently affected by diabetes. With one person being diagnosed every 5 minutes, diabetes is at epidemic proportions both in Australia and worldwide.

Diabetes causes a number of health issues, including foot problems that can negatively affect mobility and quality of life.

At the Brunswick & Sandringham Foot Clinics, our team are passionate about foot care, especially for people with diabetes. In this article we’ll cover the most common questions we get asked about how to reduce the risk of diabetes and to keep your feet healthy when living with diabetes.

How can diabetes affect feet?
Uncontrolled diabetes can damage the nerves in your legs and feet. High levels of blood sugar hasten the hardening and narrowing of blood vessels and arteries which then restricts blood flow.

Nerve damage to the feet results in numbness, burning sensations, and pain (known as neuropathy). The feet are particularly vulnerable to neuropathy due to the small size of the nerves and blood vessels with the feet.

Diabetes can also adversely affect the body’s ability to heal cuts, scrapes, and sores. These complications can combine to cause people with diabetes not to notice sores or cuts on their feet, leading to infection and further damage to the feet.

Additionally, nerve damage can affect the function of the small foot muscles, resulting in incorrect alignment. This can result in structural abnormalities such as bunions or clawed toes.

What are the common foot problems associated with diabetes?
People with diabetes are at risk of a number of different foot problems.
Some of these include:

Athlete’s foot
Athlete’s foot is a fungal infection of the feet. Sufferers experience cracked or flaking skin, redness, and itching. People with uncontrolled diabetes are particularly prone to this condition due to their weakened immune system. Left unchecked, athlete’s foot can progress to oozing or crusted blisters and infection.

Bunions
A bunion is a bony protrusion that forms on the joint at the base of the big toe, making the toe angle inward. It occurs when the big toe joint becomes misaligned, often due to abnormal foot function. It then becomes harder to find comfortable shoes that look fashionable.

Calluses
Calluses are hard areas of thickened skin that can build up on the feet. If left treated, calluses can get very thick. The underlying skin can break down, and become ulcers. This can lead to infection and further complications in the feet.

Clawed toes
Weakened and shortened muscles in the toes can cause toes to pull back and to claw. When this occurs, clawed toes make walking difficult, which can contribute to the development of additional problems such as blisters and calluses.

Ulcers
Foot ulcers can occur when a minor scrape, skin break, or foot sore becomes infected. High blood glucose levels in poorly controlled diabetes make it hard for the body to fight this infection, which can result in the ulcer becoming so dangerous it threatens the viability of the foot.

How can I avoid complications with diabetic feet?

  • Understanding and practising good foot care can prevent serious complications from diabetes.
  • Check your feet daily for cuts, bruising, unusual swelling, redness, or blisters.
  • Protect your feet in shoes that are supportive and fit well.
  • Keep your feet clean, warm, and dry. Remember to physically dry between your toes.
  • Moisturise your feet daily to avoid dry skin.
  • Visit a podiatrist at least once a year for a professional foot health assessment.

When should I seek medical help?
There are two levels of risk to feet – high risk and low risk. It’s important to know where your condition sits – a podiatrist can perform a check on your feet to determine your risk level of developing serious problems.

Seek medical advice if you notice any of the following:

  • Changes in skin colour, nail colour, or temperature.
  • Tingling or numbness in your foot or leg.
  • Unusual or unpleasant foot odour.
  • Swelling in your foot, ankle, or leg.
  • Oozing, open sores or scrapes.
  • Pain or leg cramps after walking short distances.
  • The appearance of corns, calluses, bunions, or ulcers.

Where to get further advice
All people with diabetes should have their feet checked at least once a year by a podiatrist. We (Melbourne Podiatrist) are located at two convenient locations in Brunswick and Sandringham. Click here to book an appointment with one of our experienced professionals.