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How to Increase Blood Flow to Feet for Diabetics?

One of the many common complications of diabetes is decreased blood flow to the extremities (the hands and feet). A large percentage of diabetics will eventually suffer to some degree from this.

While the potential effects of decreased blood flow can’t be entirely taken away, diabetics who are aware of this complication can take steps to prevent it or stop it from getting worse. Here’s how that can be done.

Sign of Poor Feet Circulation

To make sure you can keep on top of the potential problems from decreased blood flow to the feet, you first need to know the warning signs of poor circulation in the feet. These include:

  • Brittle toenails
  • Cold feet
  • Dry, cracked skin on the feet
  • Foot hair loss
  • Discolored patches of skin
  • Wounds or sores on the feet that do not heal
  • Tingling or numbness in the toes or feet [1]

If you experience these symptoms, even for a short period of time, call your doctor. If you experience any of the more serious symptoms below, seek medical care right away.

  • Changes in the shape of your feet
  • Cuts or blisters on your feet that you can see but not feel
  • A bad smell coming from any open wounds [2]

How does Diabetes Affect Blood Flow?

Diabetes is well known for being a problem with blood sugar. The connection to foot problems may not seem obvious. Here’s why diabetes can cause foot problems.

There are two different ways that diabetes affects blood flow. One is the build-up of sugar on the inside of blood vessels. When the sugar in the blood does not move to the surrounding cells, it builds up inside the blood vessels. This narrows them and makes it harder for blood to go through them, leading to decreased circulation. The other way is through inflammation. Diabetes produces inflammation in the blood cells that also decreases circulation. [3]

Eventually, the decreased blood flow will affect various parts of the body. High levels of blood sugar or fat in the blood can damage the nerves in the hands and feet and the blood vessels that run to the nerves. As those nerves and vessels are damaged, they do not work as well. This means that they become less responsive to sensation. This is called peripheral neuropathy. About half of all diabetics will eventually develop peripheral neuropathy. [4]

Some diabetics have neuropathy but have no symptoms of it. Others experience a numbness or tingling sensation in the feet. Your risk of developing neuropathy increases if you are over 40, have had a hard time managing blood sugar levels, have high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol, or are overweight. [5]

Tips to Increase Feet Blood Flow for Diabetes

It’s better to prevent decreased blood flow to your feet instead of dealing with the later symptoms of neuropathy. And while nothing can guarantee that it won’t occur, there are several things you can do to help keep your feet healthy.

Keep Exercising

Exercising is one of the best things you can do for your feet. Regular exercise helps to increase blood flow to both hands and feet. When you exercise, wear comfortable, sturdy shoes built for exercise. (If you feel pain when you walk quickly, stop to rest for a few minutes.) [6] Exercise can help manage your weight and also helps blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin levels, so it’s one of the best things you can do for your diabetes as well. If you haven’t been regularly exercising, start with short walks and gradually build up to longer ones. [7]

Eating Healthy Food for Heart

Since blood sugar and cholesterol levels are connected to diet, eating a healthy diet will help them to stay at a more regular level and not build up damage to circulation. It will also help control your weight, which can be a neuropathy risk. [8]

Manage Blood Sugar and Cholesterol

As mentioned before, high blood sugar and high cholesterol are two of the main things that can cause decreased blood flow to the feet. If both are managed, well damage is a lot less likely.

Exam Feet Regularly

When you get up in the morning or before you go to bed at night, do a foot examination. Look for redness or changes in color, blisters, sores, corns or warts, or cuts. Touch your toes to see if you can still feel the sensation there. [9]

In addition to examining your feet, you should wash them thoroughly every day. Dry them completely afterwards, especially between your toes. If they are dry, put moisturizer on them, but do not apply it to the area between your toes. [10]

Things to Avoid

Just as there are things to do that can help increase blood flow to your feet, there are several things that will decrease blood flow to the feet. These include:

Hot Water

Use only warm water, not hot, to wash your feet. Since neuropathy can affect your ability to feel temperatures, if you use hot water, you may burn an area of the feet and not realize it. [11]


Smoking can cause inflammation in the blood vessels, just like diabetes can. Smoking over a long period of time causes plaque build-up on blood vessels, which can decrease blood flow further. The nicotine in tobacco also decreases the effectiveness of insulin. Combine that with the increased risks of heart disease and cancer, and it’s clear smoking is one of the worst things a diabetic can do. If you are having trouble quitting, talk to your doctor about various programs to help you stop. [12]

Crossed Legs

Crossing your legs decreases blood flow to the feet, if only for a short period of time. It may not cause any long-term complications for most people, but it’s better to avoid anything that might decrease blood flow.

Walking Barefoot

Walking barefoot can give you small cuts on your feet. It’s better to wear shoes and socks at all times. Make sure you wear shoes that can stretch and not vinyl or plastic ones. Socks should keep moisture away from your skin. Broader shoes work better than narrow ones. Check the lining of your shoes every day for pebbles or other small objects that may damage your skin. [13][14]


Does Heat Help Circulation in Legs?

Decreased circulation in the legs can cause your feet to feel cold, and heat can help the circulation in your legs to a small degree, but it isn’t as effective as some other methods.

Can I Use Practices Here for my Hands?

Many of the practices for your feet (getting exercise, quitting smoking) are equally beneficial for your hands.

Do Wiggling Toes Help Circulation?

Wiggling your toes a few times every day can give them a small increase in blood flow. It’s not enough on its own to manage the problems from decreased blood flow, but it’s a helpful addition.

Final Thoughts

Decreased blood flow to the legs is one of the more common side effects of diabetes. While most people will get this to some degree, exercise, watching blood sugar levels, and other methods can help keep it from getting worse or increase blood flow to the legs in general, and if careful enough, can keep you from getting any problems from it at all.


  1. How to improve blood circulation if you have type 2 diabetes. (n.d.). UCLA Health.
  2. Diabetes UK. (2015). Know the Signs of a Serious Foot Problem When You Have Diabetes. Diabetes UK.
  3. How Does Diabetes Cause Poor Circulation? – Baptist Health. (n.d.). Retrieved March 20, 2023, from
  4. Peripheral Neuropathy | NIDDK. (2018, February). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
  5. CDC. (2019). Diabetes and Your Feet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  6. Foot Complications | ADA. (n.d.).
  7. Diabetes UK. (2015). Getting Active and Staying Active. Diabetes UK; Diabetes UK.
  8. CDC. (2019). Diabetes and Your Feet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  9. Diabetes UK. (2017). How to Look after Your Feet. Diabetes UK.
  10. Foot Complications | ADA. (n.d.).
  11. Take Charge of Your Diabetes: Healthy Feet | Diabetes | CDC. (2021, February 5).
  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, May 31). Smoking and Diabetes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  13. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2019, April 19). Diabetes and Foot Problems | NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
  14. Diabetes UK. (2017). How to Look after Your Feet. Diabetes UK.

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