A common complication of diabetes is foot problems. Many people use Epsom salts as a soothing remedy for their feet, but should people with diabetes use it?
People with diabetes can have high levels of blood sugar. This can lead to nerve damage and poor blood flow, which make it harder for wounds to heal. This can result in serious foot problems, including, in some cases, a need for amputation.
If a person with diabetes soaks their feet, it can lead to severe complications.
This article looks at the relationship between diabetes and Epsom salts and whether or not Epsom salts — or magnesium sulfate — offer a good foot remedy. It also provides tips for foot health tips with diabetes.
Epsom salt is a mineral compound with many different uses, but people with diabetes should avoid using it.
No form of foot soak is appropriate for people with diabetes.
People use Epsom salt as a home remedy for various problems. Its proponents claim that it provides a range health and beauty benefits, such as:
- soothing muscle aches and pain
- providing relief from sunburn and poison ivy itches
- removing splinters
- decreasing swelling in the body
- boosting levels of magnesium and sulfate
The theory is that the body absorbs the magnesium from the Epsom salts through the skin.
However, no studies support these claims.
Soaking the feet can dry out the skin, and this can worsen the foot problems that people with diabetes face.
Wounds and dry skin
People with diabetes often have:
- dry feet
- nerve damage resulting from diabetic neuropathy
When wounds, such as blisters, develop, they can take a long time to heal, and they can get worse quickly.
Prolonged soaking can also open small cracks that may be present in the skin, allowing germs to enter.
An Epsom salt foot soak may sound relaxing, but people with diabetes should avoid soaking the feet for long periods or in water that is too hot.
High blood sugar levels in the bloodstream can damage the nerves of the body. This is known as neuropathy.
The most common type for people with diabetes is peripheral neuropathy, or damage to the nerves in the feet and legs and the hands and arms. Between one third and one half of people with diabetes have peripherpal neuropathy.
As a result, people with diabetes may lose feeling in their feet. The person may be unable to feel pain, heat, nor cold in their legs and feet. They may not notice when they have a sore on their foot or develop a blister.
Infection can easily enter and inflame open sores on the feet. High blood sugar affects the immune system and reduces its ability to fight infections. Poor circulation complicates the healing of these sores.
Common foot problems that cause infections in people with diabetes include:
- corns and calluses
- ingrown toenails
- plantar warts
- dry and cracked skin
- athlete’s foot
- fungal infection
People with diabetes should check regularly for signs of a foot infection and contact their doctor immediately if they notice any changes.
The tell-tale signs and symptoms of infection include:
Diabetes also causes changes to the skin of the foot. People with diabetes may notice that their feet are dry, and the skin is starting to peel and crack.
This is because the nerves that control skin oil and moisture in the feet stop working.
Poor circulation also reduces the ability of the body to fight infection and heal wounds. This is known as peripheral artery disease. The blood vessels in the feet and legs also narrow and harden.
If an infection becomes too severe or does not heal fully, gangrene can result.
When gangrene occurs, the skin and tissue around a sore will die. The area takes on a blackish color, and there will be an unpleasant smell.
A doctor may recommend amputation, and the person will lose the limbs.
Nerve damage can also lead to foot deformities. Hammertoes or collapsed arches might occur. These can make it hard to walk or balance.
People with diabetes can take some steps to care for their feet.
Daily foot care and good management of blood sugar levels are essential not only for the feet but for overall health.
Here are some tips for healthy feet with diabetes:
- Daily monitoring: Examine the feet every day for any potential sores, blisters, cuts, scrapes, bruises, or abnormal blemishes.
- Washing the feet: Gently clean the feet with lukewarm water and mild soap every day, but do not soak. Over-soaking can dry the skin.
- Drying the feet thoroughly: Pay attention to the area between the toes. Excess moisture between the toes can be a breeding ground for fungus.
- Moisturizing the feet all over: A moisturizing lotion can help keep the skin from drying out too quickly. People should not put moisturizer between the toes.
- Choose suitable footwear: Always wear properly fitting shoes and socks. Shoes that are too tight can create pressure points on the feet and lead to additional problems.
- Always wear shoes and socks: These will protect the feet from heat, cold, and injury. Check before putting them on that there are no pebbles or other items that could rub the feet.
- Toenails: A person with diabetes needs to trim their toenails regularly, and cut them straight across. If an ingrown toenail develops, they should see a doctor.
- Put your feet up: When sitting down raise your feet on a stool to help the blood flow.
- Don’t heat your feet: Do not put a hot water bottle on the feet or put them too close to a fire. Use sunscreen when wearing sandals.
- Removing calluses: A person can use an emery board to file rough edges, and a pumice stone to help get rid of calluses. People with diabetes should never burst blisters or pick at sores. Do not cut corns or calluses or use liquid removers or corn plasters.
People with diabetes should seek medical help as soon as possible if an injury to their foot or another area does not appear to be healing. Prompt attention can help ward off infections or other complications.
Is there any way to have a relaxing foot soak if I have diabetes?
The American Diabetes Association discourages foot soaks.
When your feet are wet and wrinkly, they are more easily damaged, so be gentle even when you have just been soaking them as you shower. Make sure the water is not too hot and that you dry your feet well.
If you are going for a pedicure, find someone who has training in caring for the feet of people with diabetes.
Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.