Think about how your foot feels if you sit in an awkward position for too long and it falls “asleep.” It feels numb to the touch, moves sluggishly, and aches as the blood gets pumping through the foot again. It’s an uncomfortable, if fairly harmless, experience. Unfortunately, certain conditions of the foot, like diabetic neuropathy, can produce similar—though more permanent—symptoms, putting you at risk for real injuries.
Diabetic neuropathy is damage to nervous tissues in the body as a result of high blood sugar levels. In diabetes mellitus, you either can’t produce or can’t process and use insulin, the hormone that converts sugar into useable energy. The sharp fluctuations of the amount of sugar in your blood damages the blood vessels and the tissues around them—including your nerves. Usually nerves in your extremities, like your feet, show the breakdown first.
You end up with numb spots, tingling, burning, and prickly or pins-and-needles sensations. You may struggle with muscle weakness and inability to sense temperature changes as well. Diabetic neuropathy also makes you more prone to dangerous, slow-healing ulcers that could lead to amputation.
Over time, the damage to your lower limbs will get worse if you do not address the problem. Diabetes harms your immune system, so any issue you have can take longer than normal to heal and is more likely to develop a serious infection. Small problems that would normally resolve quickly do not get proper care. Then your slowed immune response isn’t able to repair the issue before it deteriorates into a more complex condition.
Controlling the Problem
If you have diabetes, you need to have your feet checked regularly for diabetic neuropathy, whether or not you have noticed symptoms of it. If you’re experiencing pain, irreversible damage has already taken place. The doctors will examine your feet to determine how seriously the nerves are injured. They may test your reflexes and check for a loss of feeling. If you show signs of nerve breakdown, they will work with you to develop a plan for managing any discomfort you may have and preventing the problem from getting worse.
Controlling your blood sugar levels is the most important part of preventing nerve damage from diabetes. Since the fluctuations wreak such havoc on your body, maintaining stable, healthy levels is extremely important. You may need to make changes to your diet and work with the doctors to develop a foot-friendly exercise plan to better manage your diabetes.
Taking care of your feet also helps prevent the problem from progressing. Wash and inspect your feet every day for changes and injuries that you might not have felt developing. If you find anything, or you do notice pain, do not ignore it—seek immediate medical help and take care of the problem before it worsens. You may need some extra medications and adjustments to your shoes to deal with and prevent discomfort in your feet and ankles. Shoes or orthotics that support and cushion your lower limbs can help prevent injuries and avoid those uncomfortable complications.
If you have diabetes and your feet hurt, do not take it for granted or hope the problem will feel better on its own; damage from diabetic neuropathy only worsens unless it’s addressed. You can prevent serious complications that could lead to amputation by taking care of your feet now. Contact Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona in Chandler for an appointment or more information.