Diabetes affects the feet in two ways. It can reduce blood circulation and also damage the nerves to the feet. Good foot care can help people with diabetes to avoid foot problems. Take care of your feet, get regular check-ups from your doctor and act quickly if you have a problem.

Foot care is particularly important if you have diabetes. Foot problems are a common complication of this condition. Your feet can be affected in two ways. Blood supply may be affected, resulting in slower healing. You may also lose some feeling in your feet due to nerve damage. A person whose nerves are damaged by diabetes may not realise they have minor cuts or blisters, which can lead to ulcers.

Foot problems can be avoided if you take care of your feet and act quickly when you have a problem. Get your feet checked at least once a year by a doctor to detect problems early and help prevent complications.


Poor blood circulation can affect the blood supply to your feet. When this is reduced, cuts and sores may not heal. An early sign of poor circulation to the feet may be pain or cramps in the backs of your legs when walking.

Circulation problems can be caused by hardening or narrowing of arteries as they become clogged up. Common causes include:

  • Smoking
  • High blood fats
  • Raised blood glucose levels.

How to improve your circulation

Suggestions to improve your blood circulation include:

  • Control your blood fat levels.
  • Keep blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking causes spasm and narrowing of blood vessels. Smokers have more heart attacks, strokes and circulation problems than non-smokers.
  • Exercise daily. A brisk walk will help keep the blood flowing around your body.
  • Avoid garters or socks with tight tops.

Nerve supply

Nerves are the ‘wiring’ of the body. They carry messages (feelings) to your brain from the rest of your body. The nerves to your feet are the most likely to be affected by diabetes.

Damaged nerves (neuropathy) can cause painful, numb or insensitive feet. Minor cuts, blisters or burns may not be felt and ulcers can develop, which you may not be aware of. Some people with neuropathy experience uncomfortable sensations such as burning, tingling and pain. This is often worse at night.

Foot care for diabetes

All people with diabetes should have their feet checked at least once a year by a doctor. This is important to detect problems early and to prevent ulcers and other complications. You may have heard it said that diabetes causes gangrene (dead, black tissue). Most cases of gangrene result from delayed treatment of foot injuries.

Daily foot care

Suggestions for daily care to help prevent foot problems include:

  • Check your feet daily for signs of swelling, redness or heat – these may be signs of infection.
  • Wash your feet daily and dry well between the toes.
  • Use methylated spirits if there is a lot of moisture between your toes.
  • Moisturise dry skin, especially cracked heels (for example, with sorbolene cream) but not between the toes.

How to avoid injury to the feet

Suggestions include:

  • Never go barefoot.
  • Wear appropriate shoes to protect your feet.
  • Avoid injury by wearing well-fitting, protective shoes – do not wear open-toed shoes.
  • Keep toenails trimmed. Cut toenails along the shape of the toe and file rough edges.
  • Have corns or calluses treated by a doctor.
  • Check the temperature of your bath water with your elbow before stepping into the bath.
  • Be careful not to put your feet too close to radiant heaters.
  • Every six months, check for signs and symptoms that may indicate you have a problem. These may include reduced circulation or sensations, abnormal foot structure or poor hygiene.

When buying new shoes

Suggestions include:

  • Don’t be rushed into buying shoes that you aren’t completely happy with.
  • Avoid open-toed shoes and narrow toes.
  • Have your feet measured and try on the shoes to check they are long enough, wide enough and deep enough.

When to see your doctor

See your doctor if:

  • You develop pain, throbbing, heat, swelling or discolouration in your feet
  • A cut or injury becomes red or does not heal.

Things to remember

  • Diabetes can reduce blood circulation and damage the nerves to the feet.
  • Ask your doctor to examine your feet regularly for any evidence of nerve damage or poor circulation.
  • Foot problems can be avoided if you take care of your feet and act quickly if you have a problem.

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