Reviewed by Veena Angle, MBBS, MD and Physician Chu I Ta on July 5, 2022
How To Heal A Diabetic Foot Ulcer
Published | 5 min read
A diabetic foot ulcer isn't just painful. It can also lead to infection and even amputation if it's not properly cared for. Learn more here.
Among these people, about 6% will become hospitalized due to an infection related to the ulcer. While this number isn’t high, it can be extremely painful if you’re one of the sufferers.
In this guide, our experts explain what a diabetic ulcer is. They will also provide tips on how to care for your feet if you have diabetes.
What Causes A Diabetic Foot Ulcer?
Notable reasons behind a foot ulcer in people with diabetes are peripheral neuropathy, peripheral arterial disease, or various foot traumas. It’s worth noting that foot ulcers can also stem from a combination of these factors.
Neuropathy is a well-known factor in most diabetic foot ulcer cases. The disease damages nerves, thus impairing the motor, sensory and autonomic fibers.
Motor neuropathy involves muscle paresis, weakness, and atrophy. Sensory neuropathy can degenerate dorsal root ganglia and lead to sensory deficits involving pain, pressure, and heat.
Autonomic neuropathy can bring about vasodilation and decrease sweating. Subsequently, a person will lose skin integrity, making an affected area vulnerable to infection.
A loss of sensation in the feet can increase a person’s risk of sustaining injuries. It can come from internal or external causes. These include:
- Inappropriate shoe use
- Foot calluses
- Foreign bodies
- Foot and nail deformities
Injuries may appear undetected during the initial stages and consequently trigger foot ulceration.
Peripheral arterial disease
This disease impacts the segments between the ankle and knee. It can be up to eight times more prevalent in people with diabetes.
In addition, it’s a predictor of foot ulceration, especially in people who suffer minor injuries with infection complications.
Structural foot deformities and abnormalities play a central role in the formation of ulcers. These include flatfoot, claw toes, hammer foot, hallux valgus, and Charcot neuropathy. It can be attributed to abnormal plantar pressure, which predisposes the feet to ulceration.
Deficiency and Excess syndromes
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a diabetes-related foot ulcer is also known as diabetic gangrene. It’s also an advanced stage of the disease and can be broken down into multiple Deficiency and Excess syndromes.
“The primary pathogenic factors of all chronic diseases during the latter stages possess a Deficiency syndrome, while the secondary factors of a chronic disease are considered Excess syndromes,” explains Real Health Medical Chief TCM Physician
Deficiency syndromes that are linked to a diabetic foot ulcer are Blood and Qi (vital life force) Deficiency, Qi and Yin Deficiency, and Yin and Yang (active energy) Deficiency.
Meanwhile, Excess Syndromes can be classified as Damp-Cold Obstructing the Collaterals, Blood Vessel Stasis and Obstruction, and Excessive Damp-Heat Toxin.
Tips For Preventing A Diabetic Foot Ulcer
Proper foot care and the management of minor injuries can help prevent ulcer formation. A daily inspection of the feet is mandatory. Gently cleanse and dry them at least once a day.
People with diabetes should also use shoes with socks indoors and outdoors, and stay away from heating pads.
Diabetic Foot Ulcer Treatment Options
If a person does develop a foot ulcer, the main objective of clinical treatment will be to heal the wounds as soon as possible.
Separately, a TCM physician will propose the use of herbal formulas and ingredients that address the distinct syndromes of a foot ulcer.
Take the pressure off the injured area
Also known as ‘offloading,’ this treatment step promotes the use of a brace, wheelchair, crutches, or specialized footgear or castings. In doing so, a person can reduce the pressure and irritation on the foot ulcer area.
Remove dead skin from the ulcer
Debridement may help with the removal of surface debris and necrotic tissues. Necrotic tissues are characterized by the death of a localized area of living tissue. This process will improve the healing of chronic wounds by encouraging the production of granulation tissue.
Surgical debridement uses scalpels to rapidly remove hyperkeratosis and dead tissue. The tip of a scalpel has to be pointed at a 45˚ angle to remove non-viable tissues and achieve a healthy, bleeding ulcer bed.
Enzymatic debridement uses agents like papain (a proteolytic enzyme from raw papaya), crab-derived collagenase, and krill collagen to remove necrotic tissue without damaging healthy tissue.
Biological debridement uses sterile maggots to digest bacteria, necrotic tissue, and surface debris. Autolytic debridement, on the other hand, uses dressings to create a moist wound environment. Consequently, it enables host defense mechanisms to rid the ulcer bed of devitalized tissue.
Herbal formulas or ingredients
Correct a Qi and Yin Deficiency with a formula called Qi Wei Bai Zhu San.
Likewise, consuming herbal formulas treats excess syndromes. Yang He Tang can alleviate Damp-Cold
Tao Hong Si Wu
Many studies have shown to aged black garlic may help control blood sugar levels to help manage diabetes. It has also been shown to help reduce the risk of infections from a diabetic foot ulcer.
Early Detection Is Best For Diabetic Foot Ulcer Treatment
Early intervention is the best way to lower the risk of a person’s diabetic foot ulcer exacerbating and becoming infected. If you wish to consider using herbal formulas to regulate imbalances, speak to a TCM practitioner beforehand.
- University of Michigan Health. Frequently Asked Questions: Diabetic Foot Ulcers.
- US National Library of Medicine. 2012. Management of Diabetic Foot Ulcers.
- National Library of Medicine. 2013. Prevention of Diabetic Foot Ulcer.
- Nutrition Research and Practice. 2009. Antioxidant effect of garlic and aged black garlic in animal model of type 2 diabetes mellitus.
- Journal of Parasitic Diseases. 2016. In vitro studies on medicinal plants used against bacterial diabetic foot ulcer (BDFU) and urinary tract infected (UTI) causing pathogens.
Share this article on
Was This Article Useful to You?
Want more healthy tips?
Get All Things Health in your mailbox today!