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Why A Callus On A Diabetic Foot Is So Dangerous

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

callus on diabetic foot

For most people, having a callus on their foot isn't a huge concern, but for the diabetic, a callus can turn into a major problem, leading to a special kind of sore called an ulcer. Having an ulcer on your foot is very dangerous because this ulcer can take much longer to heal than in someone without diabetes. An ulcer can become infected which can lead to hospitalization and amputation. It's essential for diabetics to know what to do when they notice a callus, and to have it treated or managed regularly in order to prevent these scenarios from happening.

Causes Of A Callus On A Diabetic Foot Include:

1. Too much pressure in that part of your foot

A callus is the body's way of protecting itself in that area. If your foot is getting too much pressure in one part of the sole, your body will form a callus.

Unfortunately, due to neuropathy, a type of nerve damage in your feet commonly caused by the high blood sugars seen in diabetes, the feet of a diabetic often times to change shape. Neuropathy causes weak muscles in your feet, and weak muscles lead to foot and toe deformities.

This new shape of the foot now has to take increased pressure in areas that generally were not designed to be under high pressure, and the body's response to this is to make a callus.

The wrong type of shoes as well, including shoes that are too small, too tight, or that are rubbing on certain areas of your foot will also cause your body to form a callus in response to this pressure.

2. Dry skin from peripheral neuropathy

One of the symptoms of neuropathy is very dry and dehydrated skin. This is because neuropathy also damages the nerves responsible for making sweat and oil in your feet, leaving this skin very dry.

This can lead to calluses and even fissures, which are cracks in the skin. These cracks can bleed, can also lead to a foot ulcer, and can eventually become infected as well.

3. A plantar wart

A plantar wart or wart on your foot many times will look like a diabetic foot callus on the surface. A plantar wart is caused by a virus, specifically the Human Papilloma Virus or HPV.

This virus can be picked up by your feet in many ways, including walking barefoot in public spaces including locker rooms, saunas, steam rooms, airplanes, and more.

A plantar wart can also be picked up at nail salons that aren't sterilizing their instruments, or sharing nail care tools at home with another person.

Sharing of shoes can also increase your risk of getting a plantar wart.

callus on diabetic foot

How To Prevent A Callus On A Diabetic Foot

1. See your podiatrist regularly

If you are diabetic, you should be seeing your podiatrist on a regular schedule, even more often if you have neuropathy or Peripheral Arterial Disease.

At these visits, your foot doctor will do a thorough exam of your feet, including any areas on your feet that are getting too much pressure.

Many times in a doctor's office, a callus on a diabetic foot can be trimmed using a sterile scalpel, shoe inserts can be altered, or padding can be placed around the callus in order to remove extra pressure from this area of your foot.

2. Moisturize your skin regularly

As a diabetic, neuropathy due to the high blood sugars seen in diabetes attacks the nerves that serve your sweat glands and oil gland in your feet making them very dry.

This also increases your risk of developing calluses. Being diligent about moisturizing your skin daily will help to decrease the risk of a diabetic foot callus from forming.

3. Don't walk barefoot

Diabetics should not walk barefoot, indoors or outdoors due to the risk of injury to the skin of your feet, and developing an ulcer.

Walking barefoot also makes it much more likely that you will also form a callus, which can turn into an ulcer if not adequately managed.

4. Limit your time in sandals or backless shoes

Sandals, flip flops, or backless shoes leave the skin of your feet exposed to the elements, which causes them to try out more.

Dry skin makes it much more likely that you will develop a callus on a diabetic foot. Sandals and flip flops especially allow your foot to move around on the shoe a lot more than a shoe with a closed back, and this extra motion can lead to calluses as well.

If you are diabetic, wearing sandals less, and closed-back shoes more can help with lowering your risk of developing a callus.

callus on diabetic foot
A callus on a diabetic foot which turned into a ulcer

What Not To Do If You Notice A Callus On Your Diabetic Foot

1. Do not try to trim or shave it at home

Over the years, I've had a handful of patients with a callus who just so happened to be diabetic.

Some of the patients tried to shave or trim this callus at home using electric shavers or manual handheld metal shavers. Many of the patients ended up with a foot ulcer, and some ended up with a diabetic foot infection that did unfortunately require amputation.

Someone trying to trim a callus on a diabetic foot at home or in a salon is dangerous for 2 reasons. The first reason is that diabetes increases your risk of having poor circulation to your feet.

Feet that aren't getting enough blood flow will be slow to heal from any kind of injury, no matter how small. Small nicks in the skin from electric or manual callus shavers can become a diabetic foot ulcer very quickly. Your foot doctor or podiatrist is the only person that should be shaving your calluses.

The second reason is that diabetes also increases your risk of diabetic neuropathy. If you don't have feeling in your feet due to neuropathy, it will be hard if not near impossible to feel any injury to the skin on your feet. This leads to a delay in care and also can lead to a foot ulcer forming.

2. Dont use medicated callus or corn removal pads

Callus and corn removal pads are commonly sold in stores and pharmacies. These pads contain a high percentage of a strong acid.

The problem with callus and corn removal pads is that this acid has no idea what is healthy skin, and what is a callus, it will eat at both.

Unfortunately, I have treated several patients with ulcers on their feet due to callus or corn removal pads. No one should use them, but especially if you're diabetic, these products can lead to serious infection or amputation of your foot.

3. Dont ignore it

Again, a callus can be a sign that a part of your foot is getting too much pressure. A pressure point on a diabetic foot can lead to a foot ulcer.

If you ever notice a callus forming on your foot during your daily foot check, call your foot doctor right away. We can treat and manage a callus on a diabetic foot before it comes a bigger issue.

Schedule Your Appointment At Direct Podiatry Arizona

Are you looking for a diabetic foot specialist in Phoenix, AZ? My name is Dr. Tarr, I am a board-certified foot doctor, and the owner of Direct Podiatry Arizona. To view my available appointment times, click here.

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