Most people take their feet for granted. It’s only when we get a blister, stub a toe, or notice a strange smell that we even bother to think about them. But if you have diabetes, you should pay attention to your feet every single day.

People with diabetes are more likely to have problems that, left untreated, may lead to ulcers and even amputation. In fact, more than 50,000 people with diabetes lose a limb because of the disease each year.

Being male, African-American, Latino, or Native American increases the risk. So does having cardiovascular, eye, and kidney complications or poor blood sugar control. But overall, about 15 percent of people with diabetes will have a serious foot problem at some point. And the longer you’ve had the disease, the greater your risk of complications.

What complications, you may ask? Well, if you have poor circulation, it may take longer for blisters or other sores on your feet to heal. And that increases your risk of infection. Diabetes can also lead to bone deformities, which may affect your ability to walk easily, as well as a variety of other ailments.

But here’s the nasty part: People with diabetes often develop nerve damage called neuropathy, which can cause numbness and prevent them from noticing some foot-related symptoms. That’s why checking your feet daily is a smart idea. Here are some other ways you can help keep your feet in good shape.

Choosing Shoes

Wearing the proper shoes can reduce your risk of foot problems. Choose comfortable, supportive shoes with arch supports and flexible soles. Running or walking shoes made from leather or other breathable fabrics are a good choice. Make sure that your shoes fit well – and break in the new ones gradually. You should also wear socks made from fabrics that will draw perspiration away from your feet, such as cotton-acrylic blends. If you’re active, or if your feet sweat a lot, steer clear of plain cotton to help prevent blisters.

Some pharmacies have shoes, socks, and orthotics designed for people with diabetes. For example, there are supportive diabetic socks, some of which are seamless. There are also socks called “circulation socks”… which are designed to be less binding and restrictive than regular socks.

Before you put your shoes on, always check inside for foreign objects like pebbles. Make sure that the shoe’s lining is intact and there are no other rough areas that could irritate your skin. Always wear socks or stockings – and replace any that have holes, seem too tight, or tend to bunch up in your shoes.

Drug Store Do’s & Don’ts

Many people with diabetes have very dry skin, so it’s a good idea to moisturize your feet every day. Ask your doctor about creams and lotions designed for this purpose.

If you have trouble seeing the bottom of your feet, ask your pharmacist about special mirrors that you can hold or put on the floor to help you do your daily checkup. And many pharmacists are starting to do foot inspections as a service for people with diabetes and others at risk for foot problems.

Do not use over-the-counter foot-care products, such as corn or wart removers, unless your doctor gives you the go-ahead. Some contain acids that eat away the skin – and, if left on too long, they can cause sores and other problems.

Stepping Up Self-Care

Making foot care a part of your daily routine takes only a few minutes. But it can help prevent many common ailments, such as corns, calluses, ingrown toenails, bunions, hammertoes, claw toes, arthritis, and limited joint motion. Ready to get started? Here are step-by-step directions for taking care of your tootsies.

Step 1

Keep ’em clean. Gently wash your feet every day. Use a soft towel to carefully pat them dry.

Step 2

Check ’em out. Look for blisters, cuts, scratches, and reddened areas. Contact your doctor if you notice anything unusual. Treating foot ailments immediately can prevent a small problem from becoming more serious.

Step 3

Lube ’em up. Apply a moisturizing cream or lotion (or anything approved by your doctor) on your skin – but don’t put any between your toes. Remember to ask your doctor or pharmacist before using any new foot treatments.

Nail hygiene is also important. Clip your own toenails, if you are comfortable doing so and know the proper technique. Otherwise, see a podiatrist. People can easily cut themselves, and you’d be surprised how often that leads to infection. Also, be sure to schedule a foot exam with a physician or podiatrist at least once a year, and have your doctor check for nerve damage, deformities, circulation, and skin health on each of your four annual visits.

Whenever you see your doctor, always remove your shoes and socks. Just take them off before you hop on the examining table. That reminds your doctor to look at your feet at every appointment.