Difference Between Normal Foot Changes and Diabetes Complications

They take a lot of abuse, and they cover a lot of ground. So it's hardly a surprise your feet may start to act up. If you're starting to experience foot problems, it could certainly be part of the aging process. Wear and tear on the feet, over the years, can not just make the feet spread, but can cause the fatty pads that cushion the bottom of the foot to thin out, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association.

The corns and calluses that result from these increasingly thin fatty pads can be painful. Fortunately, corns (usually on toes) and calluses (typically on the soles of the feet) are very treatable by a foot specialist.

There are other changes in aging feet that aren't the normal result of aging. Numbness, tingling, and discoloration in the feet are signs that the person could have diabetes. This should cause a person to visit the doctor, says Elbert S. Huang, MD, MPH, FACP, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago.

If you already have diabetes, these same symptoms can occur and are more likely the longer you've been diabetic. They're due to peripheral neuropathy, or nerve damage, a condition that 50 percent of people who have had diabetes for at least 15 to 20 years will develop, says Barbara Araneo, Ph. D., director of complications at the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Diabetes also increases the risk of artery disease,  which causes decreased blood flow in the feet.

One of the main dangers of having numb feet is that you won't feel it if your foot has an open cut or wound. Wounds tend to heal more slowly in a diabetic, and chronic ulcers on the foot that simply don't heal can leave a person at risk for amputation, Araneo says. Ingrown toenails, which are basically an annoyance in a non-diabetic, can turn serious in a person with diabetes. If one gets infected, you could actually lose a toe to amputation, Araneo says.

This scenario does not have to happen, though. "With conscious effort and good care, the wounds can be closed," Araneo says. "But it is important to keep blood sugar in control and monitor both blood glucose and blood pressure."

How to Better Treat Your Feet

  • Examine your feet on a daily basis, Huang advises. Besides looking for open cuts or puncture wounds, check for changes in the skin color, pain, warmth, and redness.

  • Have your feet checked by a health care expert once a year, Huang recommends. He can monitor the nerve function in your feet through some simple tests.

  • Keep toenails trimmed or filed straight across. There's less chance of an ingrown toenail his way. Never try to cut corns and calluses yourself with a razor or knife.

  • Wear comfortable shoes that aren't too tight. Always shop for shoes in the afternoon since feet tend to swell during the day. If you have calluses, your doctor may recommend therapeutic shoes and inserts.

  • Don't wear tight, constricting socks or stockings.

  • If you smoke, quit. Smoking affects the little blood vessels in the feet and causes decreased blood flow, which can increase the risk of an amputation.



Aging: Foot Health and Aging. 2010.