What is a Diabetic Foot Ulcer?

A diabetic foot ulcer is an open sore on your foot that fails to heal. They often occur on the bottom of your feet but can occur anywhere skin or tissue breaks down or is cut open. When you have diabetes, your natural healing process and pain reflexes can be disrupted. If you develop poor circulation in your legs and feet (peripheral arterial disease or PAD), have high blood sugar, or both, healing slows down.

If you have nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy), your feet may feel numb. Or you may have no feeling at all. In either case, the injury may be painless. When that happens, blisters, cuts, and sores can go unnoticed. That’s when serious problems can begin.

Why are Diabetic Foot Ulcers Dangerous?

Diabetic foot ulcers are the leading cause of amputation and hospitalization when you have diabetes. In the best circumstances, it takes weeks to several months for a diabetic foot ulcer to heal. Having diabetes puts you a much greater risk for a foot ulcer. Once you have had one, you are more likely to develop another.

If infection spreads throughout your body, or severe ligament, muscle, and bone damage occurs, amputation may be necessary. In less severe cases, you may need surgery to remove tissue that has died. In the best circumstances, it takes weeks to several months for a diabetic foot ulcer to heal.

Diabetic Foot Care

Inspect Your Feet Daily

Use a mirror to see the bottom of your feet or ask someone for help. Sores, cuts and injuries do not heal as well for diabetics and may need care. Call your doctor if you notice any of the following:

  • Hot spots, red streaks, swelling, cracks, sores, injuries or foreign objects in your foot.
  • Sensations such as burning, tingling or the feeling of pins and needles.
  • Toenail problems, including nails growing into the skin, nail thickening, yellowing or discoloration.

Wash Your Feet Daily

  • Wash your feet in lukewarm water and mild soap.
  • Use a soft towel to gently dry your feet, especially between the toes.
  • Apply a moisturizing lotion, but do not apply between toes.

Wear Proper Footwear

  • Never walk barefoot.
  • Do not wear tight or uncomfortable shoes.
  • Make sure socks and shoes fit properly.
  • Avoid shoes with open toes, heels and narrow toe.

Peripheral Neuropathy

A loss of feeling or numbness in limbs caused by nerve damage that most commonly begins in the hands or feet. Peripheral Neuropathy is a major contributor to 90% of all foot ulcers.


  • Gradual onset of numbness and tingling
  • Burning or electric-like pain
  • Extreme sensitivity to touch
  • Sensation that feels like wearing gloves or socks

Have Regular Checkups

Foot problems develop quickly, so it is important to see your healthcare provider annually. Regular checkups are vital to help track blood flow and feeling in feet.

Get Regular Exercise

It improves blood flow while increasing foot flexibility and strength. Gentle exercise like walking or riding a stationary bicycle is best.

Recommendation for Treatment

For more information, please call the Diabetes Outpatient Education Center at 310-891-6707.