By: Clay Wirestone
You’re at your destination and ready to see what there is to see. The real question is this: Are you ready to walk?
For people with diabetes, this can be a complicated question. Those who’ve dealt with the disease for many years may have some sort of problem with their feet. It doesn’t have to be major–possibly some mild nerve damage or extra calluses–but such issues can make walking more complicated.
So here’s our quick guide for looking after your feet while on vacation. What issues should you be looking out for? If you need special shoes, how can you get them and what varieties are available? What about special kinds of socks? And why does everyone tell you to walk in the first place?
Let’s start with a bit of science. People with diabetes face two distinct problems with their feet, and the way these two problems interact is the prime reason why their foot care and footwear are so important.
The first problem is nerve damage. High blood sugars, over an extended period of time, can impair the nerves in the toes and feet overall. While diabetics can and do experience nerve damage in many parts of the body, it’s most common in the feet. Ultimately, this damage can impair sensation, putting patients at risk of cuts or other injuries to their feet.
How bad can this problem get? According to WebMD, “Doctors see many similarly affected patients: those who have stepped on broken glass, knitting needles, syringes, or nails and never felt pain to alert them to injury.”
The second problem is impaired circulation. Again, people with diabetes can experience this throughout their bodies, but it is more common in their feet. This simply means that blood flow is reduced to the extremities because of narrowed vessels. The consequence is slowed healing–a cut or other wound will take longer to repair itself with less blood flowing through the foot.
Combine these two issues, and you have a recipe for damaged feet. You might not be able to feel a foot injury, and that injury might take longer to heal. Without prompt and proper medical attention, you could find yourself in real trouble.
We understand. No one wants to hear about these problems. They’re a bummer, and sometimes they seem overwhelming, especially if you’re handling other medical issues at the same time.
But don’t despair! It’s important to note that such problems aren’t inevitable. Close control of blood sugars has been proven to reduce or delay complications, including those of the feet. What’s more, some doctors have even seen a reversal of early nerve damage to the feet after a period of tight control.
It’s never too late to tighten your control, either. Quick trips to diabetes message boards offer up example after example of people who have stabilized or reduced their peripheral neuropathy symptoms through tight control. It’s tough, yes, but extremely worthwhile.
With more and more patients taking tight control seriously, serious diabetic foot problems are no longer inevitable. But that doesn’t mean they don’t happen. Many people experience some degree of foot pain as they age, anyway, so it’s not as if tight control makes your feet invincible.
Blood sugar control isn’t the only answer. Let’s face it, given everyone’s individual challenges, we require multiple approaches. We need to get out and get moving, regardless of our numbers and regardless of our medical challenges.
So what then? Two words: Special footwear.
For me, those words conjure up the image of my paternal grandmother, who walked around in a distinctly unstylish pair of boxlike orthopedic shoes. She made no apology for them–she had taught elementary school for decades, and all that time on her feet had clearly taken a toll.
But these kinds of shoes don’t have to look unusual. They don’t have to look unfashionable, either. All they have to do is provide the proper space and support. That is, they should help prevent the formation of any foot ulcers or calluses, and they should have extra space for any deformities in the toes or rest of the foot.
Now, how would you get hold of these kinds of shoes? It’s important not to get ahead of yourself. Consult with your doctor and a podiatrist first. They can give you a prescription for such footwear, and the correct measurements you’ll need for a good fit.
You may also need custom inserts for the shoes, making for an even more comfortable and safer fit. Let your podiatrist be your guide with these kinds of specific needs. That custom fit and prescription will be important.
As for socks, the situation is simpler. “Diabetic socks” often have hidden seams, reduce moisture, and keep feet warm. They also tend not to have elastic cuffs, which can cause circulation issues.
All that being said, it should be noted that “diabetic” as an adjective for shoes and socks isn’t a formal medical term. Merchants don’t have to follow any specific guidelines, so be careful when shopping online or in drugstores. The only thing about a “diabetic” product may be the word itself on the package!
There are many manufacturers of and outlets for diabetic shoes. Two that impress with a wide selection and serious approach are Dr. Comfort and Drew Shoes.
According to the Dr. Comfort’s website FAQs, their shoes “are specially designed with the input of foot health professionals. They feature extra width and depth in the toe box and forefoot to relieve pressure from key areas of your feet, and they’re manufactured using only top quality materials.”
Dr. Comfort (easily found at drcomfort.com) encourages potential customers to use a podiatrist, and also offers a line of diabetic socks. The site offers a wide variety of shoes, many meant to deal with specific problem areas of the feet.
As for the Drew Shoe Company, its history dates to 1875 in Ohio. According to the company, its long history “has earned the company an excellent reputation resulting in a very high level of repeat business. Its primary customers include many independent podiatrists and orthotic and prosthetic shops, as well as many of the best independent shoe retailers in the United States.”
While Drew Shoes offers a broad range of footwear, it has a line especially designed for people with diabetes. Just go to www.drewshoe.com/diabetics and take a look.
Other companies with experience in this special area include:
–Orthofeet (www.orthofeet.com) has comfort and diabetic shoes, socks, and insoles
–Dr. Zen (www.drzen.net) uses an exclusive fitting system for the shoes it sells.
–Acor Orthopaedic (www.acor.com) is a family-owned specialty footwear manufacturer.
As for socks, Dr. Socks has an interesting line meant especially for diabetics and touting an antimicrobial finish meant to help prevent sores, athlete’s foot, and stop odor. You can learn more about the socks, which are advertised as being made in the USA, at www.drsocks.com.
And this is just scratching the surface. We encourage you to research shoe and sock suppliers yourself, and let us know about the products that have worked for you in the comments section below. After all, the most important thing isn’t the brand of shoe you wear–it’s whether that shoe keeps your feet the healthiest they can possibly be.
The challenges of handling diabetic foot issues are many, and the shoes can be expensive (although Medicare does offer coverage if you’re over the age of 65). So why deal with all of this? Well, if you’re on vacation or a special trip, there are two good reasons. One of them is obvious, and the other one is more subtle.
You’ve spent money to travel. You’ve spent money on a place to stay. You’ve spent money to have an adventure. So why on earth would you want to stay in one place the entire time? You can only look at a landscape for so long before you want to go out into it and explore. So get moving!
The less-obvious reason to bother with this? You can reap incredible health benefits from walking. First of all, regular aerobic exercise helps lower blood sugars. And the effect isn’t just for an hour or two–it can help keep your numbers down for up to a day or more. But you have to keep walking regularly for it to work.
That’s not all. Walking also improves your cardiovascular fitness, which is especially important for folks with diabetes. The disease is often associated with heart attacks and strokes, after all, so the protective effects of regular exercise are crucial.
Finally, walking improves your overall fitness and keeps off extra weight. In other words, it’s one of the simplest and easiest ways to help yourself as a diabetic. Just 20 minutes a day can make a difference, although exercising longer and more strenuously can improve your health even more.
If you’re traveling, there’s no reason not to walk and have as many adventures as possible. But make sure to take care of your feet, especially if you’re dealing with complications from diabetes.
If you need special shoes or socks, they’re available and stylish. Just talk with your doctor and podiatrist and make sure you find the pair that’s right for you. Don’t skimp, and don’t settle for an uncomfortable pair of everyday shoes, especially if you’re going to be on your feet for an extended period of time. Your health-and your trip-are worth it.