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What Impact Can Diabetes Have on My Feet?

By Kim Petrone, M.D.

When’s the last time you looked at your feet?

That may sound like a silly question, but paying attention to your feet can prevent painful and serious health problems — especially if you’re diabetic.
About 15 percent of people with diabetes will develop an ulcer (sore) on their feet. This can be caused by nerve damage; poor blood flow; corns, callouses or bony protrusions on the feet; or even tight-fitting shoes.

Foot ulcers are serious because they can lead to infections of the skin, deep tissue or bone of the foot. If the infection becomes severe, amputation may be necessary. Severe infections can also be deadly.

The good news is there are simple ways to prevent foot ulcers.

First and foremost, work with your medical provider to keep your blood sugars and hemoglobin A1C in a good range. This can include improving your diet, getting more exercise, losing weight and taking the proper medication.

Other ways to “stay on your toes” and prevent foot ulcers:

• Look at your feet every day; you may need the help of another person or a mirror to examine the soles of the feet. Report any callouses, corns, blisters or open areas to your medical provider immediately.

• Wash your feet daily in warm water, but don’t soak them. Dry your feet well, especially between the toes. (Excessive moisture between the toes can lead to breakdown of the skin.)

• Keep the skin on your feet smooth by applying lotion (but not between your toes), and keep your toenails trimmed.

• Don’t walk barefoot. Diabetic neuropathy causes a loss of feeling in the feet, which makes you more susceptible to injury if your feet are unprotected.

• Wear shoes with a wide, deep toe box with about half an inch between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoe.

If you do develop a foot ulcer:

• Notify your medical provider immediately.

• Do not soak the ulcer or treat it with over-the-counter products.

• Try to minimize walking on the area until you see your medical provider.

Your provider may refer you to a podiatrist, wound healing center or vascular surgeon for treatment. Ask if you qualify for specialized shoes for diabetes and whether your insurance will cover the cost.

By taking the proper precautions, you can prevent diabetes from knocking you off your feet.

Physician Kim Petrone is associate medical director at St. Ann’s Community and medical director of Rochester General Wound Healing Center at St. Ann’s ( ). She is board-certified in internal medicine and geriatrics and is a certified wound specialist. Contact her at or 585-922-HEAL (4325), or visit