How Do I Care for My Diabetic Feet?

People with diabetes are at risk for developing foot problems that potentially can be severe. All people with diabetes should make sure to monitor their feet regularly.

With a diabetic foot, minor injuries can become major emergencies. A wound as small as a blister from wearing a shoe that's too tight can cause damage. Diabetes may also decrease your blood flow, so your injuries can be slow to heal, putting you at higher risk for infection. As a diabetic, your infection may spread quickly, and if you have any loss of sensation (neuropathy) you may not recognize that the problem is getting worse.

If you have diabetes, follow these tips from foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeons to care for your feet and catch problems early.

Inspecting Your Feet 

If you have diabetes, examine your feet every day: 

  • Look for puncture wounds, bruises, pressure areas, redness, warmth, blisters, ulcers, scratches, cuts, and nail problems. Make sure to look at your entire foot including between your toes. Get someone to help you, or use a mirror. 
  • Check five major locations on the bottom of each foot: the tip of the big toe, where the toes join the foot, the heel, the outside edge of the foot, and across the ball of the foot. 
  • Feel each foot for swelling.
  • Check for the ability to feel light touch in each foot.

If you find any injury — no matter how slight — don't try to treat it yourself. Go to a foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeon right away.

Taking Care of Your Feet

  • Wash your feet every day with mild soap and warm water. Test the water temperature with your hand first to make sure it is not too hot or cold.
  • Don't soak your feet.
  • When drying them, pat each foot with a towel and be careful between your toes.
  • Use quality lotion to keep the skin of your feet soft and moist — but don't put any lotion between your toes.
  • Trim your toe nails straight across. Avoid cutting the corners.
  • Use a nail file or emery board. If you find an ingrown toenail, see your doctor.
  • Don't use antiseptic solutions, drugstore medications, heating pads, or sharp instruments on your feet.
  • Always keep your feet warm with warm socks and shoes. Don't put your feet on radiators or in front of the fireplace.
  • Wear loose socks to bed.
  • Don't get your feet wet in snow or rain.
  • Don't sit cross-legged for long periods of time
  • Do not smoke.

Choosing and Wearing Shoes and Socks

  • Choose your shoes carefully. Try on new shoes late in the day when your feet are larger, and buy shoes that are comfortable without a breaking in period. Check how your shoe fits in width, length, back, bottom of heel, and sole. 
  • Avoid pointed-toe styles and high heels. Try to get shoes made with leather upper material and deep toe boxes. 
  • Wear new shoes for only two hours or less at a time. 
  • Don't wear the same pair of shoes every day. 
  • Inspect the inside of each shoe before putting it on and feel inside it with your hand. 
  • Don't lace your shoes too tightly or loosely.
  • Wear clean, dry socks every day and avoid socks with holes or wrinkles. Thin cotton socks are more absorbent for summer wear. Square-toed socks will not squeeze your toes. 
  • Avoid stockings with elastic tops. Seamless socks are available for those with neuropathy. Consider using compression stockings if your feet tend to swell.
  • Never walk barefoot or in sandals or flip-flops. 

The American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS) offers information on this site as an educational service. The content of FootCareMD, including text, images, and graphics, is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnoses or treatments. If you need medical advice, use the "Find a Surgeon" search to locate a foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeon in your area.