If you have diabetes and have pain or loss of feeling in your feet, you likely have peripheral neuropathy. This is a type of nerve damage that hurts diabetics quite often. As you may know, this condition can increase the likelihood of foot ulcers and even amputations. So you want to take extra care of your extremities if you have neuropathy. Here's some information to help you do just that.
Why Do You Lose Sensation In Your Feet?
Pain. Everyone seeks to avoid it. No one likes physical pain. We choose our relationships and hope to avoid emotional pain. Generally speaking, we seek a life without pain. But sometimes, when you get your wish, you regret it. Because you realize that pain can sometimes protect your feet. So you start to miss it.
That's exactly how the millions of peripheral neuropathy sufferers feel once the condition sets in. Now, like I said, Peripheral neuropathy commonly affects people with diabetes. (About 50% of people with diabetes have neuropathy, according to the Mayo Clinic.)
But you may also develop this condition after chemotherapy. Alcoholism, autoimmune disorders, and a host of other conditions can also trigger neuropathy. So, why does it happen? The answer's not so simple for everyone. When it's a complication of diabetes, neuropathy develops as a form of microvascular disease. (It seems like high blood sugar levels damage your nerves. And that affects the small vessels that branch off your main pipeline arteries.)
With this condition, your small vessels stop sending blood, rich in oxygen and nutrients, to your nerves. And they begin to fail. That is when loss of sensation begins to set in.
Symptoms of Neuropathy
Clearly, loss of feeling in your feet is one sign of neuropathy. But other symptoms may show up earlier. And noticing early warning signs can be key to preventing progression. So pay close attention.
Instead of losing feeling, you may develop unwanted sensations in your feet. These include burning or tingling feelings, in your feet and your toes. And the feeling is usually chronic, often most noticeable when you try to sleep.
Falling is also a lesser-known symptom of neuropathy. In fact, once you lose feeling in your feet, your risk for falling triples. As does your risk for ulcers and amputations, like I said before. And that's why we need to manage your condition carefully.
Managing Peripheral Neuropathy
How can we correct diabetic neuropathy? Unfortunately, there’s not one easy fix. If microvascular disease is causing your neuropathy, we may need to restore circulation. If that's the case for you, I'll work with circulation experts to make sure you get the best care. So that we can restore the circulation to your feet and prevent complications.
Why You Have to Manage Neuropathy
You may be wondering—big deal, why is this so important? Well, think about your reaction when you touch a hot stove. Your reflex is to quickly draw your hand away; your brain reacts to the pain even before you can feel it. Well, what if you had no pain? You'd get a pretty nasty burn. Now think about your feet. We wedge them into shoes every day. What if your shoes didn't fit? The average person would take them off and figure out why they were uncomfortable. If you had no pain, however, you'd keep walking. What if you had a pebble in your shoe? Again, the pain would cause you to take off your shoe and dump it out. If you were walking barefoot, and stepped on a piece of glass? You see where this is going... People with diabetes will not feel these minor injuries and can develop sores, blisters, and skin ulcers. These ulcers can become infected easily. And, if that happens, trouble may spread to the bone, and cause major problems.
In fact, more than 60% of non-traumatic amputations in this country are due to complications from diabetes. This is why all people with diabetes should be familiar with a podiatrist. I routinely tell my diabetic patients that they should check their feet daily. You can do it before you go to sleep. But the most important part of this plan? Call me if you see anything that wasn't there the night before. I'd rather you call me for a false alarm than ignore a small issue that will then develop into a big problem.
Why Home Care Works
Research shows that following a diabetic foot care program reduces diabetic amputations by 45%-85%. With those numbers, you should run (carefully) to your podiatrist's office. It's the first step in keeping you walking for years to come.
Easy Ways to Stop the Progression of Neuropathy
Here’s another piece of information that may help you cope with the loss of sensation in your feet. Light to moderate exercise can prevent or delay neuropathy progression.
But remember: peripheral neuropathy leads to decreased sensation. So you have to be very careful when exercising, since you may not detect a foot injury like a bruise or blister. And, as we just reviewed, even these small injuries could be devastating for a diabetic. So, how can you exercise while maintaining your diabetic foot health?
Foot Care is an Every Day Necessity
When you are exercising regularly, make sure you inspect your feet daily, as always. But go a step farther, too. First, take extra precautions to ensure an excellent fit with your athletic shoes.
You should also choose special athletic socks. Because they reduce rubbing and keep your feet dry. And both can help prevent blisters.
Exercise Caution before Lifting Weights
If you have any type of ulcer or foot injury, you shouldn’t lift weights. In fact, if you have severe neuropathy, you should probably avoid weight bearing activities at any time.
What can you do instead? Stick to walking, even if you don’t have any open sores or ulcers. And, before you start any exercise plan that involves weight bearing? Talk it over with me, your Houston podiatrist.
Be Aware of Balance Issues
Like I said earlier, peripheral neuropathy can hurt your balance. And that's why it can increase your risk of falling during exercise. Make sure that you feel safe, sturdy and comfortable before trying any type of exercise. Even walking.
I hope I haven't scared you with all these warnings. Because exercising is important for everyone, and especially for diabetics with neuropathy. Do you have diabetes and want to take proactive steps to maintain your foot health? Schedule an appointment with Dr. Andrew Schneider today! We can create an individual health plan to fit your needs.