Diabetes is a group of chronic metabolic disorders that affect the body’s ability to convert food into energy, making managing blood sugars challenging. Over time, elevated blood glucose levels can lead to extensive complications, including widespread nerve damage. Known as diabetic neuropathy, this condition is most common in the lower extremities, and if you don’t take precautions to delay its development or progression, it could put you at risk of losing your toes or feet.
Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to protect your feet from the ravages of diabetic nerve damage. Here’s what you should know about neuropathy and how Yavapai Foot and Ankle Center’s diabetic foot expert provides the comprehensive podiatric care Quad Cities area patients need to successfully prevent, manage, and treat this condition, ensuring the best possible outcomes for their foot health and overall well-being.
Understanding Diabetes and Its Effects on Your Feet
While it’s no secret that eating provides the fuel needed for various activities, you might not be familiar with the intricate internal process required to convert the food you consume into energy your cells can utilize—or the key roles that glucose (sugar) and insulin (an essential hormone) play. When you eat, your body breaks down food into glucose and releases it into your bloodstream. Insulin, a hormone a healthy pancreas produces, helps regulate blood sugar levels by facilitating cells’ absorption of glucose.
Diabetes disrupts this vital conversion process. While some people with diabetes don’t produce enough (or any) insulin, others can’t effectively use the insulin their bodies make. Without sufficient insulin enabling the cells to take in glucose, excess sugar builds up in the bloodstream.
Diabetes and Nerve Damage
Prolonged high blood sugar levels can harm nerve fibers throughout the body and peripheral nerves, particularly those in the feet, are especially at risk. These nerves relay signals between the brain and various parts of the body, allowing for sensation, movement, and coordination.
Diabetes, Nerve Damage, and Your Feet
Diabetic neuropathy can cause wide-ranging symptoms in your feet, such as:
- Numbness, tingling, or pins-and-needles sensations
- Sharp pain or cramps
- Loss of balance
- Muscle weakness
- Changes in sensation
- Increased sensitivity
This condition also increases the risk of various complications, including:
- Dry, cracked skin
- Ingrown toenails
- Ulcers or slow-healing wounds
- Loss of reflexes
- Deformities like claw toes and Charcot foot
Protecting Your Feet From Diabetic Neuropathy
Whether you were recently diagnosed with diabetes or have had it for years, the idea of peripheral neuropathy and its associated complications can be frightening. Fortunately, developing diabetic nerve damage in your feet isn’t a foregone conclusion—and even if you already have neuropathy, there are things you can do to slow its progression. Here are a few simple steps you can take to protect your feet.
Maintain Blood Glucose Levels
As a diabetic, keeping tight control of your blood sugar is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your feet and overall health. Talk to the doctor who manages your diabetes for help identifying your target blood sugar range and have your glycated hemoglobin (A1C) tested at least twice a year to determine your average blood glucose level for the previous two to three months.
Keep Your Blood Pressure Under Control
High blood pressure can increase your risk of diabetes complications. Follow your primary care provider’s plan for lowering your blood pressure to the recommended range and have it checked at every subsequent visit.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Follow a whole foods eating plan that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Diabetes educators can provide vital information and guidance on food and nutrition. These professionals specialize in helping people with diabetes manage their condition through proper diet and lifestyle choices.
Get Regular Physical Activity
Exercise daily—or regularly—according to your doctor’s instructions.
Lose Weight if You’re Overweight
Talk to your primary care provider for help identifying your target weight and creating a safe and reasonable plan to reach your goal.
Using tobacco increases your risk of developing poor circulation in the lower extremities, which can slow the healing process. Discuss smoking (or tobacco) cessation options with your doctor if you need help quitting.
Caring for Your Feet
Protecting your feet from diabetic neuropathy starts with proper daily foot care practices at home. At Yavapai Foot and Ankle Center, here’s what we recommend.
Conduct Daily Foot Checks
Examining your feet for cuts, blisters, bruises, redness, swelling, cracked or peeling skin, or anything else unusual can help you recognize and address podiatric problems before they become more dangerous.
Keep Your Feet Clean and Dry
Hygiene is a fundamental aspect of diabetic foot care. Washing your feet daily with gentle soap and warm water, then patting them dry with a clean towel, taking care to dry thoroughly between your toes can reduce the risk of infection and more serious complications like gangrene or amputation.
Applying a quality moisturizing lotion or cream to your feet each day (preferably following your daily foot wash) can help prevent painful cracking. However, don’t rub lotion between your toes since it can encourage fungal growth.
A Podiatrist Is a Wise Addition to Any Diabetes Management Team
Diabetes is a serious disease that’s managed by a health care team that includes your primary care provider and various specialists. Next to maintaining tight control of your blood sugars and performing daily foot checks, adding a podiatrist to your diabetes management team is one of the best things you can do for your long-term foot health.
At Yavapai Foot and Ankle Center, our diabetic nerve damage expert can:
- Provide routine care, such as toenail trimming and corn or callus removal
- Conduct annual foot exams
- Advise you on how to take good care of your feet at home
- Recommend appropriate footwear
- Promptly—and capably—treat any problems that arise
Following these tips and seeing us regularly can help you delay the onset, slow the progression, and avoid or overcome the complications of diabetic neuropathy.