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Heel-To-Toe Health Tips For Summer Soles

Provided By Wound Management Services
At Sturdy Memorial Hospital

Many people segue into summer feet first, wearing flip-flops or sandals, or even going barefoot, to welcome the warm weather. But for some, particularly the nearly 24 million Americans living with diabetes, this kind of casual attire is not recommended, as foot ulcers, which are open sores or wounds, can develop easily and occur in approximately 15 percent of patients with the disease. Of those diabetics who develop a foot ulcer, 14 to 24 percent will have an amputation due to infection or other ulcer-related complications. Due to these risks, diabetics must manage their disease, take precautions, and seek special care when a wound does develop. Sturdy Memorial Hospital's Wound Management Services (WMS) specializes in the evaluation and treatment of chronic, non-healing wounds, educates diabetics on proper foot care, and provides care to diabetic wounds so they may enjoy full and active lifestyles, especially in the summer.

Why Diabetics Are At Risk

According to Martin Harris, DPM, a board certified podiatrist at WMS, "Diabetics are likely to have more severe and rapidly developing wounds that can lead to infection and amputation, for a number of reasons. Nerve damage and loss of sensation in the feet and hands (peripheral neuropathy), poor circulation (atherosclerosis), and impaired immune response are all contributing factors." Blisters, sores, ulcers, and cracks can develop and worsen unnoticed because of the diminished ability to feel pain, while the wound becomes infected. Poor circulation and elevations in blood glucose caused by diabetes lowers the limb's ability to fight infection and to heal. "Local problems such as calluses, deformed nails, inadequate hygiene, and poorly fitting footwear also play an important role in diabetics' chronic, non-healing wounds."

"To compensate for the loss of the protective sensation to your feet," says Kenkre Mahesh, MD, Medical Director of WMS and a board certified surgeon, "you must rely upon your eyesight, the sensation of your fingers, and a heightened awareness of your body and its relation to your surroundings as a substitute to help prevent or detect any breakdown or changes in your skin. Diabetics are at an increased risk for circulation problems that lead to skin breakdown and non-healing wounds, so early detection is key to reducing the risk of severe wounds, infection, or amputation."

Personal Care

According to the American Diabetes Association, 82,000 Americans experience diabetes-related amputations annually. This figure could be reduced by 45 to 85 percent with regular and proper care. The WMS team recommends that diabetics take the following precautions to preventing wounds:

In The Summer:

  • Never walk barefoot, especially on the beach, at the pool, or in the locker room. This will help avoid cuts or puncture wounds from sharp objects; burns from hot pavement or sand; abrasions from rough, anti-slip surfaces; and contact with viruses or bacteria, which can lead to fungal infections or other foot problems. Injuries or burns could go unnoticed by patients with peripheral neuropathy, who have lost the protective sensation that would alert them to a problem.
  • Pay close attention to your feet when wearing certain shoe styles such as sandals, flip-flops or anything with straps between the toes, shoes with open toes or heels, or shoes that squeeze toes together, which can cause blisters or sores.
  • Apply sunscreen to the tops and bottoms of your feet to protect against sunburn.
  • Use caution when walking or getting your feet too close to campfires.

All Year Long:

  • Examine feet daily. Look for areas of dryness or cracking, especially between the toes and on the soles of the foot. Look for open sores that are slow to heal.
  • Ask your health care provider about special therapeutic shoes. Nerve damage can cause changes in the shape of your feet and toes. Poorly fitting shoes can chafe or irritate the skin, which can lead to wounds and infection.
  • Buy new shoes that are sturdy and comfortable. They must fit the length and width of the foot and leave wiggle room for your toes. Always wear wool or 100 percent cotton socks for added protection.
  • Check bathwater with your elbow before entering. Do not use hot water or a heating pad to warm your feet; instead, wear loose socks if feet are cold.
  • Maintain skin moisture with a thin coat of plain petroleum jelly or unscented hand cream. Do not moisturize between your toes, as this extra moisture can lead to infection.
  • Visit a physician or podiatrist to treat corns or calluses. Do not use commercial corn or callous removers, footpads, or arch supports.
  • Call your doctor promptly if you develop a blister, puncture, or sore, or if a callus or corn appears on your foot. Neglected wounds can result in infection, or, in drastic cases, amputation. Also, alert your doctor to any changes in skin color or developing pressure areas.
  • Maintain control of your diabetes and your blood glucose levels, which will help you to fight infection and prevent wounds.

Wound Management Services

Sturdy Memorial Hospital's Wound Management Services has a team of specially trained clinicians and support staff that can provide preventive and comprehensive medical care for diabetes-related wounds and sores. WMS logged 4,372 patient visits in 2009 alone, and currently, their healing rate on all wounds is 89 percent, with a median time of 36 days to heal all wounds. To learn more about WMS, please call 508-236-7600 or click here.