Most people with diabetes dread its possible complications—and no wonder: some complications could seriously harm your body, while others may threaten your life.

Diabetic foot damage is one such complication. At its worst, it could lead to amputation, a last-resort measure to save lives in the most serious cases. But there are simple steps you can take now to help prevent such problems and keep your feet in the pink.

Foot ulcers

Foot ulcers send more people with diabetes to the hospital than anything else. A foot ulcer is an open sore on the foot. Because of neuropathy, foot ulcers may be painless—but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be taken seriously. Some foot ulcers become deep, extending down into the tendons and bones within the foot. Foot ulcers can be difficult to heal, and even small ones may lead to severe, dangerous infections. The old saying that “an ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure” certainly applies to foot ulcers.

What is neuropathy?

Over time, diabetes may damage nerves in your body—especially if high blood sugar remains poorly controlled. This nerve damage, called peripheral neuropathy, is especially common in diabetic feet, legs, hands, and arms. Symptoms may include numbness, tingling, or pain. Numbness is a special concern, because ordinary small foot sores or injuries may go unnoticed and get worse.

All shoes are not created equal

How can you help prevent foot ulcers? One of the most important steps you can take right away is also one of the simplest: choose your footwear carefully.

The right shoes can help protect your feet from hazards. The wrong shoes could actually cause ulcers on your feet. In fact, poor-fitting shoes are a leading cause of foot ulcers.

Follow these footwear tips to help reduce your risk:

• Inspect before wearing. Before you put on shoes, especially older shoes that may have wear and tear, look and feel inside for tears, sharp objects, or anything else that might injure your feet.

• Check the fit. Do your shoes rub the sides of your feet or elsewhere? Are they too tight anywhere? Friction could lead to a sore. Also, choose styles that leave room for your toes to wiggle.

• Make fine-tuning easy. Skip slip-ons and choose shoes that have laces, buckles, or Velcro so they are easy to adjust.

• Go slow. Sometimes new shoes have to be broken in. Don’t hurt your feet doing it. Try wearing them for only an hour a day at first.

• Materials matter. Heat and moisture are enemies to your feet. Choose shoes made of materials that breathe such as cloth, canvas, or leather, and avoid non-breathable materials such as plastic.

• Add another layer of protection. Thick, absorbent socks without seams help cushion your feet. Change them right away if they get wet or your feet perspire.

• Ban bare feet. Sure, poor shoes could be bad for your feet—but going without footwear could be worse, especially if you have neuropathy and may not feel that you’ve stepped on a thorn or a bit of broken glass. Always wear shoes or slippers both indoors and outside.

Protected feet are happy feet. Taking a few precautions now will help you put your best foot forward for years to come.

To learn more about neuropathy:

Relieving Diabetic Nerve Pain
Caring for Your Feet with Diabetes
5 Must-Do Actions when Living with Neuropathy