Foot care is important if you have leg artery disease (peripheral arterial disease or PAD). In PAD, the blood vessels in your limbs become blocked because of hardening of the arteries. If you have PAD or diabetes, you must pay special attention to your feet because diabetes makes blood vessels more susceptible to hardening of the arteries and nerve damage called neuropathy. Neuropathy can cause loss of protective feeling, tingling, and pain in your feet or weakness of your legs. Left untreated, nerve damage can lead to tissue death, known as gangrene, and eventually to amputation.
If you have PAD or diabetes, it is important for you to make special efforts to take care of your feet to make sure that they remain healthy. You may not have the normal protective sensations in your feet that would ordinarily warn you of injuries to your feet. You should monitor your feet regularly and protect them from injuries through proper hygiene and injury prevention. By taking special care of your feet, you can minimize the risk of serious complications.
What can I do to prevent foot complications?
Your vascular specialist will give you a specific treatment plan depending on your condition. This plan will include instructions about how to take care of your feet. But it will be up to you to make sure that they remain healthy, that you are prepared to detect any problems early, and that you seek treatment right away. Some of the ways in which you can keep your feet healthy include:
Check your feet every day: Look for cuts, sores, blisters, redness, warm spots, and swelling all around your feet and ankles and between your toes. If you have trouble seeing the soles of your feet, use a hand mirror or ask someone to check them for you. If you find anything abnormal when examining your feet, call your doctor.
Wash your feet every day: Wash your feet in warm water, but don't soak them because that can dry them out by removing protective oils. Make sure the water is not too hot by testing it first with your hand or elbow. Dry your feet thoroughly including between your toes.
Moisturize your feet to keep the skin soft and smooth: Apply a thin coating of a moisturizing lotion on your feet every day to keep them smooth and to prevent dryness and cracking. Many of these preparations contain lanolin and are available over the counter. Your physician can provide specific recommendations for reliable products in your area. Avoid using lotion between your toes because this practice might make you more likely to have infections.
Do not treat yourself: If you develop rough skin, corns, or calluses, ask your doctor to treat them, do not treat them yourself because you might accidentally injure your skin.
Trim your toenails regularly: Use a nail trimmer to keep your toenails neat to avoid irritation of the skin. Cut straight across the nail, avoid cutting the corners of your nails, and smooth any rough spots with an emery board or nail file. If you have trouble trimming your toenails, ask someone to help you. If your toenails become thick, yellowed, or are growing into your toes, call your doctor.
Always wear shoes and socks: To avoid injuring your feet, always wear socks and shoes even when you're inside. Socks that fit well, have some padding, and are without a seam are best. Remember to check the inside of your shoes before putting them on to make sure nothing is in them that could injure your foot and that the linings are smooth. Also wide shoes that don't compress your toes are best and you should avoid wearing open-toe or open-heel shoes.
Buy shoes that fit properly: Shoes that don't fit properly can cause blisters and sores. Make sure to have your feet measured every time you buy shoes, and pick shoes that match the shape of your feet. Be sure that your shoes are snug enough so that your feet don't slip in them, but leave enough room for you to wiggle your toes. Buy rounded shoes and preferably low heels.
Protect feet from heat and cold: Always wear shoes on hot pavement. If your feet are exposed to sunlight, remember to use sunscreen. Avoid sitting or lying with your feet near radiators or space heaters. Do not place heating pads or hot water bottles on your feet. Wear socks to protect your feet from cold. During cold weather, check your feet regularly during cold weather to monitor for frostbite.
Maintain blood flow to your feet: Wiggle your toes and flex your feet and ankles for 5 minutes 2 to 3 times each day. Remember not to cross your legs for long periods of time. Avoid tight-fitting socks and garters, which might cause swelling or pressure injuries.
Exercise: Exercise improves circulation as well as overall health. Activities like walking, dancing, swimming, and bicycling are all activities that will improve your overall health but minimize stress to your feet. Be sure to check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.
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Revised September 4, 2009