Walking barefoot when you have diabetes carries significant risks. Diabetes is often accompanied by nerve damage known as peripheral neuropathy, which can lead to a loss of sensation in the extremities, delayed healing of wounds, and an increased risk of infections. Our skilled Austin diabetes foot care podiatrist can help you understand how diabetes affects your feet and offer preventive measures to minimize these risks and maintain optimal foot health.
Diabetes: Why You Should Never Walk Barefoot
Who doesn’t like walking barefoot in the sand, sticking their toes in the ocean, or wandering through rich, lush grass without shoes? But without the protection of shoes, your feet are vulnerable, and for those with diabetes, you risk suffering a cut or wound that you might not even feel. If you have peripheral neuropathy because of your diabetes, the loss of feeling in your feet could make walking barefoot dangerous and lead to serious foot injuries. Here’s why diabetes makes walking barefoot so risky.
Loss of Sensation
Peripheral neuropathy often reduces the ability to perceive sensations in the feet. This means, individuals with diabetes may not feel pain, temperature changes, or injuries. Walking barefoot increases the risk of stepping on sharp objects, hot surfaces, or other potential hazards without realizing it. This lack of sensation can lead to injuries going unnoticed, allowing them to worsen over time.
High blood sugar levels in diabetes can impair the body's natural healing processes. When a diabetic individual sustains a foot injury while walking barefoot, the healing process may be significantly delayed. Delayed healing can result in complications such as infection or the formation of diabetic foot ulcers. Additionally, diabetes compromises the body’s circulation. Because your feet are so far from your heart, there is reduced blood flow to your toes and heels, and your body doesn’t deliver the necessary nutrients through your blood to heal a foot wound.
Increased Risk of Infections
Small cuts, blisters, or sores that go unnoticed and untreated due to neuropathy can become entry points for infections. Diabetes compromises the immune system's response, making it harder to combat infections effectively. Untreated infections can spread to surrounding tissue or bones. If an infection cannot be stopped, amputation may be needed to save your life.
Common Types of Barefoot Injuries
For those who choose to go shoeless, walk barefoot, or engage in activities that expose their feet to potential hazards, the sense of freedom that comes with naked feet also comes with risks. To avoid scratches or lacerations, it’s important to keep sandals on when you’re at the beach and shoes and socks on when you’re in the yard or even inside the house. If you don’t, you may suffer common types of barefoot injuries, including:
Cuts and Abrasions
The most common barefoot injuries are cuts and abrasions. Sharp objects such as glass, nails, rocks, or even rough surfaces can easily cause cuts and scrapes to the feet. These injuries can be painful, prone to infection, and may require cleaning and dressing.
Walking on hot surfaces, such as scorching sand or pavement, could lead to burns on the soles of the feet. These burns can range from mild to severe, depending on the duration of contact and the temperature of the surface.
Stepping on sharp objects such as thorns, needles, nettles, or thistles can result in puncture wounds. These injuries may penetrate deep into the foot, causing pain, swelling, and the potential for infection.
Sprains and Strains
Going barefoot can make the foot more vulnerable to sprains and strains. Walking on uneven terrain or making sudden movements without the support of shoes can lead to overstretching or twisting of the foot's ligaments and muscles, causing pain and reduced mobility.
Bare feet are more exposed to bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Fungal infections such as athlete's foot can develop, causing itching, burning, and discomfort.
Tips for Preventing Barefoot Injuries
While the risks associated with walking barefoot are increased for those with diabetes, there are strategies that can be used to reduce your chances of injury and keep your feet healthy:
Inspect Your Feet Daily
If you have diabetes, you should do a daily self-check of your feet. Look for any abnormalities or issues, such as cuts, blisters, sores, or signs of infection. Using a mirror or seeking assistance from a caregiver can help if mobility is limited.
Wear Protective Footwear
Always wear appropriate footwear, such as well-fitting shoes and socks, to protect the feet from potential hazards. Avoid walking barefoot, even at home. Consider therapeutic shoes or diabetic-friendly footwear designed to reduce pressure points.
Maintain Foot Hygiene
Keeping your feet clean and well moisturized is essential. However, avoid soaking your feet, as excessive moisture can worsen dryness. Apply moisturizer to prevent dry skin and cracking, but avoid putting it between the toes to prevent fungal infections.
Schedule Regular Foot Exams
Regularly visit a podiatrist or health care provider for foot examinations, especially if there are any signs of neuropathy or existing foot problems. These professionals can assess your foot health, provide guidance on preventive measures, and address any emerging issues promptly.
Trim Your Toenails Safely
Proper toenail care is essential to prevent ingrown toenails and other complications. If you have difficulty trimming your toenails safely, seek the assistance of a podiatrist.
When to Contact a Podiatrist
Regular foot care is crucial for individuals with diabetes to maintain optimal foot health. Here are some specific instances when it is essential to contact our skilled Austin podiatrist:
If you notice any foot problems such as wounds, infections, corns, calluses, or changes in skin color or temperature, contact our Austin podiatrist promptly before the problem worsens and becomes more serious.
Unusual Sensations or Pain
If you experience unusual sensations, tingling, numbness, or pain in your feet, it may be a sign of neuropathy. An experienced podiatrist can evaluate your condition and provide recommendations for managing it.
Seek the expertise of a podiatrist when you require advice on selecting proper footwear to accommodate your specific foot needs, especially if you have deformities or neuropathy.
Consult with a podiatrist to develop a comprehensive, preventive strategy for diabetic foot care. Regular check-ups can help identify potential issues before they become severe.