Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

brand logo

Am Fam Physician. 2004;70(5):925-926

How does diabetes affect my body?

Diabetes causes the amount of sugar in your blood to be higher than normal. Over time, this can damage the nerves, arteries, and veins in your body. Nerve damage may cause burning pain or numbness in some part of your body. Damage to the arteries and veins means that your feet may not get a good supply of blood.

Why do I have to worry about my feet?

People with diabetes often have trouble with their feet. Nerve damage can make it hard to know if you have a blister or sore. If little sores are not taken care of, they can turn into deep sores called ulcers. If ulcers get infected, you may have to go to the hospital. In serious cases, people with ulcers have to have some of their toes or a foot amputated (cut off).

How can I avoid problems with my feet?

Keep your blood sugar level as close to normal as possible. Follow your doctor’s advice about diet, exercise, and medicine. Here are some other ways to protect your feet:

  • Wash your feet every day with lukewarm water and mild soap.

  • Dry your feet well, especially between the toes. Use a soft towel and pat gently; do not rub.

  • Keep the skin of your feet smooth by applying a cream or lanolin lotion, especially on the heels. Ask your doctor what you should do about cracked skin.

  • Keep your feet dry by dusting them with nonmedicated powder before putting on socks or stockings.

  • Check your feet every day. You may need a mirror to look at the bottom of each foot. Call your doctor at the first sign of redness, swelling, pain that does not go away, or numbness or tingling in any part of your foot.

  • Do not try to remove calluses, corns, or bunions without talking to your doctor first.

  • Cut toenails straight across to avoid ingrown toenails. It might help to soak your toenails in warm water before you cut them. If you do not see well or if your toenails are very thick, ask your doctor to help cut your toenails. Sometimes your doctor will send you to a podiatrist (a foot doctor) to help care for your feet.

  • Do not let your feet get too hot or too cold.

  • Do not go barefoot, even indoors.

What should I look for when choosing shoes and socks?

Do not wear shoes without socks. You also should avoid sandals, open-toed shoes, high-heeled shoes, and shoes with pointed toes. Here are some things you can do to protect your feet:

  • Wear well-padded socks or stockings that are one half inch longer than your longest toe. Do not wear stretch socks, nylon socks, socks with an elastic band or garter at the top, or socks with inside seams.

  • Do not wear uncomfortable or tight shoes that rub or cut into your feet. If you have had problems before because of shoes that did not fit, you may want to be fitted with custom-made shoes.

  • Talk to your doctor before you buy special shoes or inserts.

  • Shop for new shoes at the end of the day when your feet are a little swollen. If shoes are comfortable when your feet are swollen, they probably will be comfortable all day.

  • Break in new shoes slowly by wearing them for no more than an hour a day for several days.

  • Change socks and shoes every day. Have at least two pairs of shoes so you can switch pairs every other day.

  • Look inside your shoes every day for things like gravel or torn linings. These things could rub against your feet and cause blisters or sores.

How often will my doctor check my feet?

Your doctor should check your feet when you have an office visit. If you are having any problems, such as loss of feeling, sores, or ingrown toenails, tell your doctor right away.

Continue Reading

More in AFP

More in PubMed

Copyright © 2004 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP.  See permissions for copyright questions and/or permission requests.