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Should diabetics use foot spas or foot massagers?

When one of our community members asked about foot spas and foot massagers on Diabetic South Africans, there was a lot of confusion around whether or not they are a good idea for people with diabetes. Specifically, is soaking feet something people with diabetes should do?

We asked Anette Thompson, the podiatrist on our Panel of Experts, to weigh in. This is what she said:

For persons living with diabetes, foot spas and foot massage machines are contra-indicated. There is no advantage to soaking feet in a foot spa, as this just makes the skin soggy and more likely to get damaged. 

Soften hard skin

If the motivation for soaking feet is to soften hard skin, it is preferable to use a 20% urea containing heel balm each night until the skin is softened.  Alternatively, if there is a large amount of hard skin, a podiatrist should be consulted to remove this professionally and to advise on what might be causing the buildup so that an appropriate line of treatment such as re-balancing orthotics or prescription innersoles are made, for instance.

Ease pain or fatigue

If the motivation for soaking feet is to ease pain or fatigue, a preferable way to ease fatigue in feet and legs is to elevate them more than 60 degrees – this is easily achieved by lying on one’s bed and propping the feet up against the wall or headboard – 5 minutes is all it takes to drain heavy, tired legs and feet. Rest flat for a further 5 minutes before slowly sitting up.  While sitting, do heel raise exercises for 5 minutes.  You’re good to go!

All the nerves in the feet and legs originate from the lower end of the spine.  In the case of pain after spinal surgery, massaging the nerves in the feet, unless performed professionally, will rarely ease the nerve pain that is actually originating from the spine.

Improve blood circulation

The reader who wrote in said that “feet need extra massaging”. This might suggest that the feet feel better after being rubbed. This is due to a temporary increase in blood circulation. When nerves have a decrease in function, this can affect their partner blood vessels.  Since blood vessels affected by diabetes will be microangiopathy (small blood vessel damage) as well as macroangiopathy (large blood vessel damage), it is inadvisable to use a machine massager since this could harm the vessels.

Topical applications that may help include Capsicum cream, alternating with Arnica Ice.

Speak to your doctor about nerve support medications such as Neurobion, and nerve pain prescription medication.

New research is being conducted in to the use of low level laser light therapy to regenerate nerve and blood vessels but I can’t comment further since I have not seen any literature on clinical trials.

Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash

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