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How Diabetes Causes Foot Problems


When you have diabetes, your feet need extra care and attention. Diabetes can damage the nerve endings and blood vessels in your feet, making you less likely to notice when your feet are injured. Diabetes also limits your body's ability to fight infection and get blood to areas that need it. If you get a minor foot injury, it could become an ulcer or a serious infection. With good foot care, you can prevent most of these problems.

Caring for your feet can be quick and easy. Most of the care can be done when you are bathing or getting ready for bed.

What increases your risk for problems?

Things that increase your risk for diabetic foot problems include:

  • Poor blood sugar control. If your blood sugar levels are almost always above the target range, you are more likely to have foot problems.
  • Duration of diabetes. The longer you have the disease, the greater your risk.
  • Other problems due to diabetes (small blood vessel disease, atherosclerosis of large vessels). If you already have other problems caused by diabetes, you are more likely to have foot problems.
  • Smoking. Smoking can lead to blood flow problems in your extremities, such as your toes or feet. This increases your risk of developing foot problems.
  • Peripheral neuropathy (damage to the nerves that control sensation and touch). Peripheral neuropathy results in the loss of feeling in your toes or feet, making you more likely to have foot problems.

How do problems start?

Foot problems in diabetes often begin with nerve disease (neuropathy). Neuropathy causes problems in your feet by damaging your nerves. This can make your feet numb and cause problems with the way you walk. These problems can harm your feet in the following ways.

  • If your foot is numb, you may not feel a small injury. For example, you may not know when you have a blister because you don't feel any pain from it. Without treatment, a small injury can become infected or lead to a foot ulcer.
  • If your nerves are no longer able to carry the correct signals to your feet and legs while you walk, your body may force your feet into unnatural positions as you move. Changing the way you walk increases your risk of getting foot ulcers. It also raises your risk of getting a foot deformity, such as hammer toe or claw toe or Charcot foot.

What can you do to help prevent problems?

Keeping your blood sugar in your target range and doing daily foot care can help you prevent foot problems from diabetes.

  • Keep your blood sugar close to normal by watching what you eat, monitoring your blood sugar, taking medicines if prescribed, and getting regular exercise.
  • Take care of your feet each day.
    • Wash your feet every day. Use warm (not hot) water.
    • Pat your feet dry, including between your toes. Do not rub the skin.
    • Check for blisters, cuts, cracks, or sores. If you have a foot problem, see your doctor. Don't try to treat a foot problem at home.
    • Use moisturizing skin cream to keep your feet soft. But don't put cream between your toes.
    • Change socks daily.
  • Have your doctor check your feet during each visit.

Related Information


Current as of: October 2, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.


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