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What is a foot ulcer?
Foot ulcers are skin wounds on the feet. They can occur anywhere, but are usually linked to pressure or friction, so the soles of the feet, the tips of the toes and between the toes are particularly vulnerable areas.
Ulcers can affect healthy people with good circulation and skin integrity when the skin is exposed to repeated pressure, particularly when coupled with moisture.
Ulceration however is far more likely to affect someone with poor quality skin, poor circulation or conditions like diabetes. This is because your skin is a wonderful barrier, capable of healing itself and protecting you, however these conditions impair the skins abilities to repair.
Diabetes and other conditions that also affect the feeling in the feet can put you at more risk because you cannot feel the pressure causing the ulcer, or the pain related to it, so people often carry on without seeking help as they don’t realise the severity of the problem.
Foot ulcers can lead to infection and severe complications if left untreated or if the person’s skin is not able to heal.
Ulcers can also be present under thickened nails and under thick areas of skin or callus this is more likely to be the case in someone with diabetes or other medical conditions, and if you have a medical condition like this, having hard skin and toe nails regularly treated and checked by Podiatrist is a good idea.
How can I help myself?
Self care is focused largely on trying to avoid foot ulcers. Making sure you maintain good foot hygiene, your footwear fits well and is not causing pressure or rubbing, and you are careful when doing things that could cause high levels of friction and pressure sores on your feet.
Monitoring your feet regularly to check the skin including between the toes and the undersides, using a mirror or with help from someone else, is very important. It is especially important If you have neuropathy (numbness of your feet) due to diabetes or for any other reason. You should also check inside shoes and socks for any foreign objects like splinters or stones, and avoid hot surfaces like swimming pool decks when on holiday. It is also wise to never test bathwater with your toe if you have any numbness in your feet as you won’t be able to rely on this as a test of the water temperature and it could lead to burns.
When to see a Podiatrist?
Podiatrists are experts in the diagnosis and managing foot ulcers using a variety of specialist techniques and dressings. Really there are no safe self care methods, if you have an ulcer, so seek medical help, ideally involving a Podiatrist, but if this is an emergency or you have an infection or cellulitis, see your GP or go to A and E as soon as possible.