If you have been diagnosed with type 1, type 2 or gestational diabetes, it is extremely important to see a podiatrist regularly to maintain healthy feet.
This is important year-round, however there are a few things that you need to be mindful of as we head into the colder months.
Firstly, let’s dive into what diabetes is and how it affects your feet.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus is a condition whereby there is a decreased production, or absence, of insulin produced by the pancreas.
Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the beta cells in the pancreas and is responsible for helping to transport glucose through our bloodstream to the tissues and organs.
When there is not enough insulin, excess glucose builds up in the bloodstream and this can have significant effects on different parts of the body.
Diabetes is often present alongside other conditions such as cardiovascular disease and can be caused by genetics, diet and a sedentary lifestyle, just to name a few.
There are 3 main types of diabetes:
- Type 1 – where there is a complete absence of insulin production.
- Type 2 – there is a decreased production of insulin.
- Gestational diabetes – which occurs due to the production of hormones by the placenta that may inhibit the action of insulin.
As podiatrists, we have patients from each category of diabetes and maintaining their foot health is equally important as foot complications can arise.
How does diabetes affect the feet?
When we perform a diabetes assessment, we are looking at 2 different systems:
The blood supply to your feet
An increase in the amount of sugar in your bloodstream can significantly affect your blood supply over time.
These glucose molecules can attach onto the walls of the arteries (the vessels that carry the blood away from the heart) and cause them to become narrow, meaning that there is less blood getting to the tissues.
Your feet, specifically your toes, are the further body parts away from your heart, meaning that the blood has to travel the furthest.
This is where we usually see signs of vascular insufficiency first.
Your blood supply is integral for many things including your ability to heal, nail and hair growth, skin integrity and temperature control.
If your blood supply is at all compromised, this can significantly affect your feet and, in severe cases, may lead to wounds and ulcerations of the skin.
The nerve supply to your feet
Similarly to how the blood vessels are affected, the sensory nerves in the feet can also be affected by an increase in blood glucose.
Nerves are protected by a casing called a myelin sheath and this usually likes glucose, as it helps the nerve impulses to move from one nerve to the next.
However, excessive glucose can begin to eat away at this sheath, much like a tooth cavity.
The nerves can then become desensitised and symptoms like numbness, burning, tingling and pins and needles may occur. These symptoms make it difficult for patients to feel.
So, how can I protect my feet in winter?
The good news is that there are lots of things that you can do to help protect the health of your feet!
While we’re talking about diabetic foot care, these tips are also handy for people who don’t have diabetes as well!
Here are our top 5 tips:
Tip 1: See your podiatrist regularly
Regular check ups are incredibly important to maintain your foot health.
Keeping your nails at an appropriate length and managing callus and corns will reduce your risk of pain within the feet and wounds/ulcerations.
It also allows your podiatrist to identify any changes in the health or your feet sooner rather than later so that we can treat them promptly.
Tip 2: Be mindful of how you keep your feet warm!
Making sure that your foot temperature is well controlled is very important in the winter months.
Wearing socks and appropriate shoes are necessary to keep your feet warm – wearing thongs when out and about in winter is typically not the best idea!
Wearing socks made from natural fibres including wool or bamboo will help to keep your feet warm and can reduce irritation that may be caused by synthetic fibres.
Be very cautious when using a hot water bottle or sitting in front of a heater or fireplace to warm up your feet.
If you have decreased sensation in your feet, you are then more prone to injuries such as burns when you are unable to accurately feel the warmth of something.
If you struggle with sensation, check your feet frequently or have someone else monitor your feet to let you know if they look or feel too hot.
Similarly, ensure that your feet do not become too cold as well.
Tip 3: Wear appropriate shoes
As mentioned above, wearing appropriate footwear is very important.
During the winter months, we tend to wear more closed in shoes, especially when out of the house.
Make sure that the shoes are right for you and monitor for things like blisters, corns, callus, ingrown toenails, bruising and redness.
If you notice any of these things, visit your podiatrist and take your shoes with you for an assessment.
Tip 4: Exercise regularly
Physical activity is incredibly important to maintaining your overall health, however it is of specific importance for those who have diabetes.
The glucose in the blood provides the tissues with energy and that energy is expelled when exercising.
This helps to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and keeps you fit and healthy!
If exercising outside in the cold weather is not your cup of tea, consider joining a gym or purchasing some simple exercise equipment that you can use in the comfort of your own home.
exercising regularly benefits the feet for various reasons including increasing blood flow and increasing strength.
Please remember to always consult a trained professional when beginning any form of exercise to ensure that it is safe for you.
Tip 5: Eat well balanced diet
The old saying of putting on the winter kilos is definitely a reality for most people in the winter months. However, it can be at a great detriment to your health!
Any increase in weight automatically puts extra pressure on your body, particularly the feet.
Maintaining a healthy weight by eating nutritious foods that also help to balance your blood sugars will ensure that your feet are able to function effectively and keep your entire body healthy and happy.
Have more questions? Contact us on 9432 2689 or book online to have a consultation with one of our podiatrists. We’re based in the North-East suburbs of Melbourne and we’re here to help you keep your feet healthy no matter what time of year it is!