If you have diabetes, you probably know to watch your blood sugar. But do you know to watch your feet, too?
These are some of the first words Tina Canada, RN, a certified diabetes educator for OSF HealthCare, tells people who seek guidance on their diabetes diagnosis.
Many symptoms of diabetes can be detected through subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – changes in your foot health.
For people with diabetes, the foot is a window to your health. Diabetes can cause nerve damage, known as peripheral neuropathy, which often affects the feet.
When you have diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin, a vital hormone that helps sugar turn into energy. When the body doesn’t make enough insulin, sugar has a harder time entering the cell and producing energy. That excess sugar collects in the blood.
With diabetes, the excess sugar in the blood interferes with blood circulation throughout the whole body. Without proper circulation, the lining of the nerves wears off. This happens most frequently in the feet because the body has to pump blood all the way down to the tips of our toes, and that blood has travel back up to the heart.
Nerve damage to the feet can cause all sorts of problems:
- Not being able to feel when you have a cut or sore.
- Wounds that take a long time to heal can lead to infection.
- Impaired balance, which can lead to injury from falls.
- High risk for amputation for people with other health complications.
Finding the right fit
Enter, diabetic socks.
“Having good quality socks promotes circulation, prevents irritation to your feet and prevents friction,” Tina said.
Socks for people with diabetes are designed with fewer seams. This is for a couple of reasons. Fewer seams means minimal friction. Friction is something to avoid as it can cause points of pressure and increase risk for wounds or blisters. Reduced friction also means that blood can circulate more freely through the body.
Because they’re at higher risk to develop wound infections on the feet, people with diabetes need to be especially careful when it comes to keeping feet dry. A moist foot is a breeding ground for bacteria to grow in a wound and cause infection.
Diabetic socks are made out of moisture wicking material, which help keep feet dry. This might be wool, cotton or a blend of synthetic materials.
The most important thing, according to Tina? “Socks that really fit you well.”
“Socks that are too tight are going to impair circulation,” Tina said.
On the other hand, loose socks are more likely to move around and cause friction.
Fit is especially important for people with diabetes who have poor circulation and experience swelling in the feet or legs. In that case, compression socks may be recommended. These are snug-fitting socks that promote blood flow.
Compression socks should not be so tight that they impair circulation. But, because they are made with a bit more elastic than other socks, compression socks encourage the blood to flow by gently squeezing the leg.
Take care of your feet
Many people with diabetes don’t need compression socks. But, if they are recommended, putting them on first thing in the morning before even getting out of bed is a key factor.
“Put compression socks on when your legs are elevated, because the blood has already circulated down your legs.”
Once you’ve gotten up and are moving, it gets harder for your body to circulate blood to and from the feet.
Problems with your feet?
Once those socks are on, keep them on all day.
Tina also recommends buying a telescoping mirror at a local pharmacy or hardware store. It’ll only set you back a couple of bucks. Use the mirror to look at the bottom of your feet often. That way, you’ll be familiar with your feet. If any changes come up, you’ll be ready to take action.
Finally, don’t use super-hot water when you wash your feet. Moisturize with lotion daily.
“Put lotion on the top and bottom, but not in between the toes,” Tina said.
That can cause moisture to get trapped in nooks and crannies, which is not something you want.
If you have diabetes but haven’t gotten acquainted with your feet, get to know them and all your sock options.