Have Diabetes? You Need to Check Your Feet EVERY DAY

Dr. Anthony Spitz, DPM

Podiatrist & Ankle and Foot Surgeon located in Wheeling, IL

Little habits can make a big difference in life.

Brushing and flossing your teeth is a great example. It takes up maybe six minutes of your day—three in the morning, and three in the evening. Do it faithfully, and you can usually limit your dental work needs to maybe the occasional cavity—if even that. Don’t do it, and we see a lot of crowns and root canals in your future!

The same goes for foot exams if you have diabetes—even if you don’t have a history of foot problems. Developing a 5-minute-per-day habit now can help ensure you don’t have to deal with major complications like wounds, infections, and potentially even amputation in the future.

Of course right now, due to COVID-19, almost everyone is dealing with major disruptions to their daily routines. That’s understandable, but we also want to make sure it doesn’t cause you to neglect your feet over both the short or long term!

Why Are Feet So Vulnerable for People with Diabetes?

In the battle against diabetes and diabetic health complications, feet are on the front lines. They are often the first part of the body to develop symptoms, the first to indicate more serious problems, and the most at risk of severe injury.

Why is this the case? It’s a combination of factors:

Wear and tear. Even among otherwise healthy people, feet are already especially vulnerable to cuts, bruises, fissured skin, ingrown nails, and infections simply because of the amount of abuse they take on a day-to-day basis. All that weight and pressure, trapped inside shoes that possibly don’t fit, puts them in harm’s way anyway.

Impaired circulation. One of the most common complications of diabetes—present in the majority of people with the condition—is reduced circulation to the feet and ankles. This means your feet are getting less oxygen and fewer nutrients than they should. Healing and tissue repair systems slow down, and your immune system can’t put up as much of a fight, either.

Impaired nerves. Peripheral nerve damage is another extremely common consequence of diabetes, and that means you can’t necessarily trust your nerves to respond correctly (e.g., send the correct pain, temperature, or pressure signals to your brain) when your feet are being damaged. So you might not notice a problem for hours (or days) while it gets ever more severe.

Do I Have to Check My Feet Every Day Even If I’ve Never Had Foot Problems?

Yes, we strongly recommend that you do, for a couple of major reasons.

Number one, there’s a first time for everything. The fact that you’ve never had a foot problem before doesn’t mean you won’t get one in the future. Almost everyone with diabetes develops circulatory and nerve issues to some degree, and that puts you at elevated risk regardless of your age or current symptoms.

Number two, you may not fully realize the extent of circulatory or nerve problems until they are already severe. These conditions have a tendency to develop slowly over time, and may not be obviously symptomatic until you’ve already lost a significant degree of function. So you could already be greatly underestimating your risk.

And number three, establishing the habit as early as possible gives you the best odds of long-term success. Remember, even otherwise fully healthy people sometimes miss foot problems due to inattention. Getting into the habit today will give you a solid foundation to keep your feet from reaching the next level of risk. And now that most people have a lot of extra free time at home, there’s no better time than now to get started.

How to Perform a Good Self-Exam

Really, checking your feet every day couldn’t be simpler. The exact time, place, and procedure may vary depending on your lifestyle and what works for you, but here are some quick tips to get you going:

  • Check your feet at a consistent time each day—it’s easier to stick to a routine. Right before bed, right after getting up, or right after your shower are all good choices.
  • Make sure the room is well lit, so you can see your feet in high-contrast detail. If you normally use glasses or contacts, make sure you are wearing them.
  • Make sure you can see your entire foot easily as you move it about, including both sides, the sole, and between and around the toes. You may have to experiment with sitting positions to find one that’s most comfortable.
  • If you’re still having trouble with being able to see your entire foot, use a small handheld mirror or ask a loved one to help you.
  • In addition to making a visual inspection, feel your feet with your hands. You may notice bumps, scratches, or temperature variations that you weren’t able to see with just your eyes.
  • If you notice any unusual symptoms, write them down. If they do not get better (or get worse) within the next couple of days, give us a call.
  • If you notice any major issues, such as an ingrown nail or an open sore, call our office immediately.

By taking these simple steps, in just a couple of minutes per day, you could easily save yourself some very serious, expensive, and life-altering medical problems down the road.

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