Most of us take our feet for granted—they’re just a utilitarian body part that, on an average day, we contemplate about as much as we think about our spleens. When you have diabetes, though, your feet may always be on your mind.
Your doctor may have told you about the importance of keeping your feet healthy and of the complications that can result. You may have heard horror stories about illness, hospitalization, and even amputation that can occur when something goes wrong with your feet—most often a seemingly innocuous ulcer.
But if you are living with diabetes and have an ulcer, do not despair. Your path does not lead automatically to a permanently altered life. There are other treatments available that may well help you regain your foot health and keep your feet intact and functioning. And new developments in diabetic skin grafts mean you may even avoid a hospital procedure.
About Diabetic Ulcers
A diabetic ulcer is a sore that forms on your foot, often on the ball of your foot or your toe. While not all ulcers hurt, it is important to get them treated as soon as possible, as they can worsen easily and cause everything from infection to amputation. The good news is that with proper treatment, you don’t need to get to that point.
Early Intervention for Diabetic Ulcers
You should see your doctor as soon as you suspect you have an ulcer, even if it doesn’t hurt. Early intervention is one of the best treatments for diabetic ulcers. A qualified podiatrist will debride the area (removing dead skin), dress the wound, and advise you on how to care for it in order to remove pressure and prevent recurrence or worsening.
Skin Grafts for Diabetic Ulcer Treatment
When a diabetic ulcer does not improve after conservative treatment, your podiatrist may use a skin graft as a sort of bandage. Skin grafts close wounds and help them heal. Traditionally, skin grafts are done in a hospital setting under general anesthesia. However, diabetic ulcers can often be treated with biosynthetic skin substitutes (also referred to as tissue-engineered skin substitutes, artificial skin, living or human skin equivalents, and skin alternatives) that are grown in a lab and applied on an outpatient basis.
When you come to the office, your doctor will first clean the ulcer and then debride the wound, which means cutting off all the dead skin with surgical tools to make sure no infection remains and the wound is clean.
The doctor will then apply the biosynthetic skin, which looks a bit like a square of tissue paper. While it might not look like much, this miraculous bit of bioengineering covers and protects your wound, bonds to your skin, and promotes healing.
Finally, the doctor will bandage the area in gauze to keep it clean. It can take several treatments before your ulcer is completely healed, and you may also wear a boot during that time to help keep pressure off the ulcer.
Additional Treatment Options
While biosynthetic skin grafts are effective, can be applied on an outpatient basis, and can help you avoid hospitalization and amputation for diabetic ulcers, they are not the only treatment option. Your doctor may recommend additional treatment to address the underlying cause of your foot ulcers and prevent a recurrence of the problem. For example:
- Surgery to remove pressure on the affected area, which might include the shaving or excision of the bone
- Surgery to correct deformities, such as hammertoes or bunions
- Surgically removing the infected bone to treat osteomyelitis
Do You Need the Help of an Experienced and Caring Podiatrist?
If you're experiencing any type of foot pain, you should speak with an experienced podiatrist as soon as possible. Please contact us online to schedule your appointment or call one of our convenient El Paso offices directly. To reach our Sierra Tower Building podiatrist office please call 915.533.5151. You can find driving directions here. To reach our George Dieter Drive podiatry office please call 915.856.3331. Driving directions are available here.