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Between early morning walks with Fido and hauling your buns up the stairs at work, your feet can take a beating. Throw diabetes into the mix and your tootsies could need some serious TLC.

Having diabetes, you’re more likely to seek out sole self-care due to poor circulation and nerve damage. These sometimes-painful conditions can develop because of chronic high blood sugar levels.

Epsom salt, or magnesium sulphate, is a popular muscle-soothing remedy for marathon bathers and runners alike.

Epsom enthusiasts claim it:

  • soothes muscle aches and pains
  • relieves itching from poison ivy or sunburn
  • loosens up splinters
  • decreases tissue swelling
  • boosts magnesium and sulfate levels (taken as a beverage)

Wondering if you should hop on the Epsom salt train?

If you have diabetes, Epsom salt isn’t the best for your frustrated feet. Soaking your toes can actually increase the risk of foot problems and lead to severe complications. So it’s best to opt out, unless your doctor specifically tells you otherwise.

Soaking in magnesium sulfate may seem like a good idea, since those with diabetes often have a magnesium deficiency. But magnesium can’t be absorbed into the body through an epsom salt soak.

Instead, research suggests that a better method is to take oral magnesium supplements to improve blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels. Ask your doctor if adding a magnesium supplement is a good option for you.

Peripheral neuropathy

Neuropathy occurs when chronic high blood sugar levels cause nerve damage. Peripheral neuropathy, meaning it affects the arms, legs, and feet, is the most common type of neuropathy in people with diabetes.

It’s estimated that one-third to one-half of people with diabetes have peripheral neuropathy.

Symptoms include:

  • numbness in the feet and toes
  • sharp pains in the feet that are often worse at night
  • tingling or burning sensations in the feet
  • muscle weakness
  • foot deformities and ulcers

It’s possible for people with diabetes to lose feeling in their hands and feet. This means they can’t feel pain, heat, or cold.

While it’s nice to not feel cold feet, you also won’t notice sores, blisters, or ill-fitting shoes. Thus some sort of foot injury is inevitable at some point — thank you wedding season, and the table leg you stub your toe on. Even a small pebble in your shoe could rub against your foot and cause a sore.

Wounds and diabetes

Even if you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have peripheral neuropathy, diabetes increases the risk for dry, cracked skin. This is because the nerves that control skin oil and moisture in the feet may stop working altogether.

Bodies with nerve damage and poor blood flow don’t heal as easily — this is known as peripheral artery disease. It occurs when blood vessels in the feet and legs narrow and harden.

This can result in serious problems, and in some cases, may lead to amputation. And nothing’s less relaxing than losing a limb. Just ask Mr. Potato head.

Infections

People with diabetes are at a greater risk for the following foot problems which can lead to infections:

  • corns
  • calluses
  • blisters
  • ingrown toenails
  • bunions
  • hammertoe
  • plantar warts
  • dry, cracked skin
  • athlete’s foot (fungal infection)

If you notice the following symptoms of infection, contact your doctor immediately.

  • pain and discomfort
  • pus
  • redness
  • warm skin
  • fever
  • unwellness overall

If you notice that a sore is taking on a blackish hue and has an unpleasant smell, then the infection may be gangrene. This requires urgent medical attention to avoid potential spread and amputation.

So, what can you do instead of taking an Epsom salt soak? Lots!

10 Tips for healthy feet with diabetes

  1. Keep your tootsies at ‘baby bear level.’ Not too hot, not too cold. Wear sunscreen during sandal season. Speaking of sandals, it’s really best to wear closed-toe shoes to protect the toes from injury.
  2. Wash daily. Use lukewarm water and mild soap to gently clean your feet, but don’t soak them. Fragrances and chemicals can dry out skin, so look for irritant-free options.
  3. Dry your feet. And don’t forget the toe cleavage — fungus loves to breed there. Use a medicated foot powder between your toes to keep the cleavage dry!
  4. Scrub the calluses. Pumice stones or emery boards can help whittle down the rough patches. Avoid picking at calluses or cutting corns, and steer clear of chemical corn removers or corn plasters.
  5. Moisturize. Use a foot lotion recommended for diabetes. Not between the toes though. Remember that dry between the toes helps prevent fungus.
  6. Trim your toenails. Opt for a straight, “square” nail when styling and don’t cut them too short. This reduces the risk of ingrown nails. See a doctor if an ingrown nail happens.
  7. Monitor daily. Examine your feet for sores, blisters, cuts, scrapes, bruises, and blemishes. The faster you notice something’s afoot, the better!
  8. Keep covered. Wear proper shoes and socks to protect your feet from heat, cold, and injury. Remove pebbles right away no matter how much you want to tough it out. Wear that new pair of shoes for a couple of hours daily to break them in gradually. Blisters can become a serious wound.
  9. Stay elevated. Improve circulation by propping your feet up on a stool while sitting down. You can’t beat that for relaxation! It’s also important to exercise regularly and take frequent walk breaks to avoid sitting too long.
  10. Invest in shoes and socks that fit properly. Jimmy Choo’s anyone? Shoes that fit too tightly can create problematic pressure points. A podiatrist or specialized shoe store can help you find a perfect fit. Some well-known therapeutic and orthopedic shoe brands include Dr. Comfort, Hush Puppies, and Prophet.

Value those little (or not so little) feet to the max! Though they may crave a soak in Epsom salt, it’s safest to opt out. Studies don’t support the use of Epsom bath salts for people with diabetes.

Diabetes is a chronic illness that can require lifelong treatment and care, which includes your feet. Go forth and exercise the solid foot care outlined above. Epsom salt aside, your options are (dare we say) limb-it-less?