For anyone newly diagnosed with diabetes, learning that the disease can lead to problems in the feet and lower extremities can be quite a shock. While it is tempting to think about diabetes as a disease that only impacts your blood sugar levels, it can affect the health and function of various areas in the body.
This article will dive deep into one specific area — the feet — to discuss how diabetes can impact their overall health and function over time. As a helpful resource for anyone looking to learn more about peripheral neuropathy in the feet, this article will highlight the essential information about the disease, covering its causes, common symptoms, and available treatment and management options. Read on to learn more about this common issue and how you can implement lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of experiencing diabetic neuropathy of the feet in the first place.
What is diabetic neuropathy?
Before we jump into the specifics of disease symptoms and treatment, we must first understand the condition at a fundamental level.
Commonly diagnosed as a secondary condition (meaning it is caused by another primary disease, which, in this case, is diabetes), diabetic neuropathy is defined as the development of numbness, tingling, and chronic pain in the lower extremities due to nerve damage. Despite being a common symptom of uncontrolled diabetes, diabetic neuropathy is considered a neurological disease in its own right and requires additional treatment and support to be managed appropriately.
As one of the largest systems in the human body, the nervous system is made up of our brain, spinal cord, and millions of peripheral nerves that extend to every organ and body part. Responsible for transporting information from one place to another, our nerves are susceptible cells designed to conduct electrical impulses for us to understand our environment better. But, because our nervous system is so fragile and sensitive to stimuli, even minor changes within our body can cause damage and injury to our nerve cells. This is what occurs when someone is diagnosed with diabetic neuropathy in the feet or elsewhere.
What causes diabetic neuropathy in the feet?
So, now that we better understand the basics of diabetic neuropathy, we can dive into the specific causes of this disease.
While the exact causes of diabetic neuropathy are still not adequately understood, it is generally accepted by leading researchers in the field that exposure to elevated blood sugar levels plays a significant role in developing nerve damage. It is currently believed that high glucose levels in the blood can interact with the transmission of nerve impulses from our extremities to the brain — causing many of the most common symptoms associated with the disease. Additionally, as diabetes is known to cause significant damage to the vascular system, injuries to the small capillaries in the feet can lead to poor circulation and oxygenation of the surrounding tissues, resulting in nerve injury and eventual cellular death.
But why does diabetic neuropathy often present itself in the feet instead of other body areas? As the most common location for people to develop neuropathy, our feet are the most at-risk part of our body because they are located the furthest away from our body’s core. While our fingers are the most distal parts of our upper body, the feet and toes are located even further away due to the length of our legs — making them extra vulnerable to developing poor circulation and experiencing slower transmission rates of sensory nervous system impulses.
As a condition that equally affects both men and women living with diabetes, some of the most common risk factors that increase your chances of developing diabetic neuropathy pain in the feet include:
- Poorly regulated blood glucose levels
- Being diagnosed with type I or type II diabetes
- History of kidney disease
- Having an elevated body mass index (BMI)
Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy in the feet
Now that we understand more about how diabetic neuropathy is caused, we can look at how to identify the disease by understanding its most common symptoms.
As a progressive disease, diabetic neuropathy is commonly diagnosed and referred to in stages. Generally speaking, the higher the stage level, the more profound and debilitating the symptoms are.
During the earliest stages of the disease, it is very common for the person to experience no symptoms. And while this may seem like a good thing, this is a significant problem for many people with diabetes because they are not aware of the damage being caused on a cellular level to the nerves in their feet.
Once the damage progresses enough to cause symptoms, a patient will begin to notice changes in the feeling and function of their feet. The first noticeable signs of diabetic neuropathy in the feet include:
- Episodes of mild numbness or tingling to the toes or bottom of the foot
- Sharp cramp-like pain
- A burning sensation to touch
- Injuries to the feet (like blisters, ulcers, or cuts) of unknown origin
Suppose you experience any of these early symptoms. In that case, speaking to your primary healthcare provider as soon as possible is one of the best courses of action to reduce your risk of the disease progressing. During the earlier stages, proper neuropathy management can slow down or stop the progression of the disease, preventing long-term damage and disability.
But, if adequate treatment options are not used to prevent the progression of the neuropathy, more severe symptoms will develop over time. Examples of late-stage symptoms of diabetic neuropathy of the feet include:
- Hypersensitivity to touch (even something as light as bed sheets)
- Chronic pain and aching in the feet
- Difficulty participating in daily activities
- Complete numbness and loss of feeling in the feet
- Impaired mobility
- Development of chronic infections
- Impaired blood circulation
- Cellular death and necrosis of the toes and foot
While some of these late-stage symptoms are extremely severe, it is important to remember that diabetic neuropathy of the feet is a preventable and manageable condition. By consulting with your primary care provider and making healthy lifestyle changes, you can reduce your risk of experiencing this debilitating condition and learn how to manage it effectively.
Understanding your options for treatment for diabetic neuropathy of the feet
Whether you or a loved one is experiencing diabetic neuropathy, it is only natural for you to be interested in learning how to treat diabetic neuropathy in the feet.
Modern medicine does not have a definitive “cure” for diabetic neuropathy. Depending on the extent of nerve damage a person has sustained, the only available treatment options for this condition are geared to prevent further disease progression and manage existing symptoms. While this may be disheartening to hear, it is important to note that taking steps to slow the progression of diabetic neuropathy has a ripple effect of health benefits for the entire body and will dramatically improve your overall quality of life.
Examples of common treatments for diabetic neuropathy in the feet include:
- Monitoring your blood sugar levels
As the primary culprit for causing the damage in the first place, keeping your blood sugar levels within a healthy range is essential in preventing worsening symptoms. Daily monitoring and adjusting your diet, exercise levels, and medication dosages can all help to reduce your risk of experiencing profound diabetic neuropathy in the feet.
- Practice diabetic foot care daily
Taking the time to check on the health of your feet is a must for anyone living with diabetes. We highly recommend doing a daily routine check of your feet to monitor for any developing injuries, changes in sensation, and possible sources of chronic infections.
- Wear comfortable and non-restrictive diabetic socks
If you are already experiencing some symptoms of diabetic neuropathy in the feet, wearing comfortable diabetic socks can be beneficial. Designed to be incredibly stretchy to prevent painful calf marks, high-quality diabetic socks like those made by Viasox are non-constricting and encourage improved circulation to the lower extremities.
Support your feet with comfortable Viasox diabetic socks
Educating yourself about the possible complications of uncontrolled diabetes is your best defense against developing additional chronic health issues like diabetic neuropathy in the feet. We hope this blog is helpful for anyone looking to improve their health and take the correct steps to ensure their feet are happy and healthy for years to come.
At Viasox, we are committed to offering our customers the best quality diabetic socks available today. Made from a luxurious blend of high-quality materials, including cotton, lycra, polyester, and bamboo charcoal, our collection of non-binding diabetic socks, ankle and compression socks is worth exploring.
To learn more about our available products or for additional support with your online order, please get in touch with our team online today. We look forward to becoming an essential part of your daily foot care routine!