Diabetes and Calluses on Feet


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Diabetes and Calluses

People with diabetes are more likely to have foot problems, from mild to severe. Two main issues cause these complications: diabetic neuropathy, which is nerve damage from high blood sugar, and peripheral vascular disease, which affects blood flow to the limbs. Nerve damage, especially in the legs and feet, can lead to a loss of feeling, making it hard to notice irritation or pressure.

Calluses are common in people with diabetes due to changes in how they walk and move, caused by neuropathy and poor blood flow. While calluses are usually harmless for most people, they can cause serious problems for diabetics. Because of reduced pain sensation, small foot injuries might go unnoticed and untreated, leading to infections and ulcers.

Good foot care is essential for managing diabetes and preventing complications. This includes regular foot checks, maintaining foot hygiene, wearing the right shoes, and controlling blood sugar levels to protect nerve and vascular health. For diabetics, even minor foot issues like calluses need attention to prevent serious conditions.

A foot with calluses, surrounded by diabetes-related items like insulin, glucose monitor, and healthy food.

Common Foot Problems

Diabetes often leads to foot problems such as calluses, which develop more frequently and can build up into thicker layers due to abnormal pressure on the foot. Regular monitoring is essential as people with diabetes might not feel the pain from these calluses due to neuropathy.


  • Prevention: Proper footwear, diabetes-managed insoles
  • Maintenance: Use pumice stones on wet skin; do not cut calluses.

Other Concerns

  • Neuropathy can result in unnoticed injuries like a tack or stone in the shoe.
  • Untreated injuries can lead to infections or ulcers and require medical attention.

Calluses and Diabetes

Individuals with diabetes are at a heightened risk of developing calluses on their feet. Such calluses may lead to more serious complications if not managed properly.

Formation of Calluses

Calluses form on the feet of diabetic patients primarily due to high pressure areas under the foot. These areas can be a result of uneven weight distribution or skin abnormalities. Diabetes often causes the skin to dry and crack, making it susceptible to callus formation. Further contributing to this issue is peripheral neuropathy, which is nerve damage often found in patients with diabetes. It diminishes sensation in the feet, leading to unnoticed pressure and injury.

  • Causes:
    • Altered foot biomechanics
    • Loss of fatty padding in foot
    • Poorly fitting footwear


For diabetics, calluses may not be just a source of discomfort; they can escalate into ulcers and infections. Reduced blood flow, or peripheral arterial disease, exacerbates the risk as it hampers the healing process. Infection of a callus can lead to cellulitis or osteomyelitis, which require urgent medical care.

  • Risks:
    • Skin breakdown leading to ulcers
    • Higher chance of infection
    • Potential development of Charcot foot, a severe condition that deforms the foot structure

Preventing and Treating Calluses

A foot with calluses being treated with lotion and a pumice stone

Proper foot care is essential for individuals with diabetes to prevent and treat calluses, which can lead to complications if not managed effectively. Key approaches include regular monitoring of feet, medical interventions for severe cases, and preventive measures.

Foot Care Recommendations

Individuals with diabetes should inspect their feet daily for signs of calluses, as well as cuts, blisters or sores. Moisturizing the feet is important; however, one should avoid placing lotion between the toes to prevent infections. Furthermore, the American Diabetes Association suggests avoiding over-the-counter treatments that use acids for callus removal because of the risk they pose.

  • Daily Foot Inspection: Check for signs of calluses, skin changes, or injuries.
  • Moisturize: Keep skin supple to prevent cracking, but avoid areas between toes.

It is advisable to wear well-fitting shoes that alleviate pressure points and to keep nails trimmed straight across to avoid creating pressure points that can cause calluses.

  • Shoe Selection: Opt for well-fitting, comfortable footwear.
  • Nail Care: Trim nails straight across to mitigate callus formation.

Medical Treatments

For more severe calluses, a podiatrist may debride the area, carefully removing the thickened skin to reduce the chance of ulcers. In situations where structural foot abnormalities contribute to callus formation, such as bunions or hammertoes, a podiatrist may recommend offloading devices or surgery to correct the deformity and relieve pressure.

  • Podiatric Debridement: Professional removal of thickened skin.
  • Corrective Devices or Surgery: To address underlying structural causes.

Individuals with diabetes should not attempt to cut calluses themselves due to the elevated risk of infection and complications. It is also essential to manage blood glucose effectively to aid overall foot health and prevent the nerve damage that can lead to callus formation.

When to See a Doctor

People with diabetes should be vigilant about their foot health due to the higher risk of complications. Regular foot inspections are critical, and one should seek medical advice if certain symptoms arise.

Immediate medical attention is warranted if one notices:

  • Persistent pain: Continuous discomfort or throbbing in the feet.
  • Change in skin color: Any alteration in the hue of the feet or toes, especially darkening.
  • Changes in temperature: Feet suddenly becoming extremely cold or hot.
  • Wounds or sores: Injuries that do not heal or worsen over time.
  • Infections: Signs of infection, including redness, warmth, or pus.

Additional symptoms necessitating a doctor’s consultation include:

  • Tingling or numbness: A sensation of “pins and needles” or loss of feeling.
  • Swelling in the foot or ankle.
  • Cracks or fissures in the skin, especially if they are deep.
  • Thick, yellow toenails which may be indicative of a fungal infection.
  • Loss of hair on the toes, feet, and lower legs, signaling compromised blood flow.

Doctors specializing in foot care, such as podiatrists, are equipped to handle diabetic foot-related issues more effectively.

Key precautions for those with diabetes include:

  • Regularly checking feet for cuts, sores, or any unusual changes.
  • Maintaining blood sugar levels within the target range.
  • Wearing well-fitted shoes and avoiding walking barefoot to prevent injuries.

For those with calluses, careful management is critical to prevent the development into more serious conditions. It is essential to never attempt to cut calluses oneself as this can lead to infections or ulcers. Professional care is strongly advised for callus treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

This section addresses common concerns and provides evidence-based answers regarding calluses in individuals with diabetes, underscoring treatment, differentiation, early signs of complications, safe practices, and preventive measures for foot health.

What are the recommended treatments for calluses on diabetic feet?

For individuals with diabetes, treatment for calluses typically involves professional care from a healthcare provider. They may recommend therapeutic shoes, orthotics, or careful paring down of the callus by a podiatrist to prevent the development of ulcers.

How do diabetic calluses differ in appearance from non-diabetic calluses?

Calluses in diabetic patients often form more rapidly and can appear thicker due to high-pressure areas under the foot. Without proper management, these areas may lead to the formation of foot ulcers.

What are the signs of diabetic foot complications in the early stages?

The early signs of diabetic foot complications can include persistent pain, redness, swelling, and changes in skin temperature. Prompt attention to such symptoms is crucial for preventing further deterioration.

Can diabetics safely use over-the-counter callus removers, and if not, why?

Diabetics are generally advised to avoid over-the-counter callus removers, which often contain chemicals that can irritate the skin and lead to wounds or infections. Diabetes can cause reduced sensation in the feet, making it difficult to detect such injuries.

What are the best practices for diabetic foot ulcer prevention and care?

Preventive practices for diabetic foot ulcers include regular inspection of the feet, proper diabetes management, wearing well-fitted shoes, and maintaining good foot hygiene. If an ulcer develops, immediate medical care is essential to reduce the risk of infection and amputation.

Why are diabetics more prone to developing calluses on their feet?

Individuals with diabetes are more prone to developing calluses due to neuropathy, which reduces sensation in the feet, and circulatory issues that can alter the pressure distribution when walking, leading to callus formation at high-pressure points.

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