Patients with diabetes regularly suffer from foot conditions which are acerbated by the disease, the most common of which include neuropathy and poor blood circulation. Because neuropathy causes one to lose sensation in his or feet and poor circulation makes it difficult for cuts, scraps, and other injuries to heal, it is very important to pay close attention to your feet and ankles if you have been diagnosed with diabetes as otherwise minor injuries could become elevated into serious complications and health concerns.
Common Foot and Leg Problems Associated with Diabetes
Diabetes increases the risk for patients suffering a wide range of foot, ankle, and leg complications. If a patient has diabetes and treatment is not administered, many complications and injuries can progressively worsen to the point that the leg could be lost or the patient’s very life could be placed at risk. The following represent the most common foot, leg, and ankle problems associated with diabetes.
- Dry skin
- Ingrown toenails
- Charcot foot
- Artery restrictions
What is a Foot and Ankle Surgeon’s Role in Diabetes Treatment?
While treatment for the diabetes itself is overseen by other health specialists, a foot and ankle surgeon plays a significant role in helping the patient reduce the risk of amputation. Foot and ankle surgeons have special surgical and conservative techniques that are effective for joint reconstruction and for promoting wound healing in the lower extremities. Regular checkups with a foot and ankle surgeon are recommended as part of a strong diabetes treatment regimen.
What Can I Do to Help Lower My Risk of Injury?
There are several things a patient with diabetes can do to help reduce their risk of experiencing painful foot, ankle, or leg injuries. These include:
- Perform daily inspections of your feet, ankles, and legs to look for any signs of discoloration, swelling, nail changes, and other noticeable differences
- Inspect your toes daily for changes in color. If they turn pink, red, or purple when sitting, then there may be a circulation problem
- Keep your nails trimmed
- Avoid treating corns and calluses yourself and never use over-the-counter medicated pads
- Make sure your floors are free of sharp objects
- Wear shoes at all times, even indoors
- Check your shoes and socks before putting them on
- Have your legs, ankles, and legs tested for loss of sensation by a foot and ankle surgeon on a regular basis
Foot Care Guidelines for Diabetics
Along with injury prevention methods, a diabetic patient also needs to practice excellent foot care. Here is a guideline you can use to help ensure your feet, ankles, and legs are well cared for and your diabetes is held in check:
- Follow your doctor’s orders for keeping your blood sugar under control
- Examine your feet every day
- Wash your feet in warm, not hot, water every day
- Dry your feet thoroughly, including between the toes
- Apply skin lotion to the top of your feet (but not between the toes) to help keep the skin soft and moisturized
- Use a pumice stone to gently smooth corns or calluses (only if your diabetes is under control and you are at low risk of skin injuries)
- Trim your toenails once a week, and trim the nail straight across
- Avoid digging into the corners of your nails
- Wear socks at night
- Avoid crossing your legs for extended periods of time
- Avoid smoking
- Wiggle your toes and rotate your ankles for five minutes, at least two to three times a day to help improve circulation
When is Amputation Necessary?
Amputation is sometimes the only way to restore a diabetic patient’s ability to walk in cases where vascular surgery is unable to improve the blood flow to the feet, but it is the goal of the foot and ankle surgeon to prevent this from occurring. The extent of the amputation depends on many factors, including the part of the foot or leg being affected, the health of the patient, and more. In some cases only one or two toes may require amputation whereas in more severe cases, the lower leg may need to be removed.
Regardless of the case, you surgeon at Pennsylvania Foot and Ankle Associates will discuss all of the conservative and surgical treatment options available to you so you can make the most informed decision about your treatment plan.