Type 2 diabetes is caused by an impairment in how the body regulates the production and usage of glucose. The pancreas does not produce enough insulin to regulate the movement of sugar into the cells, and the cells respond poorly to insulin by taking in more sugar than is necessary.
When a person’s diabetes is poorly controlled, they face an increased risk of a wide range of impairments affecting the circulatory, nervous, and immune systems. Often, this leads to foot problems that can affect their ability to fully participate in day-to-day activities.
If you suffer from diabetes, it’s important to understand how your blood sugar levels affect your foot health and what to do when you spot the signs of a potential problem. At Grandville Foot and Ankle, we are committed to providing our patients with the resources they need to take control of their condition and get back to making the most of each day.
Why Diabetes Can Cause Foot Problems
There are two main ways that diabetes can lead to problems with your feet: reduced ability to feel pain and impaired wound healing.
You might think that not being able to feel pain would be a blessing, but pain is the body’s way of alerting you to problems requiring medical attention. If you have reduced sensation in your feet due to diabetes, you might not notice that you’ve been injured.
A reduced ability to feel pain is a sign of diabetic neuropathy, which is a condition that involves nerve damage in your legs and feet. If you have diabetic neuropathy, you may also find it difficult to sense heat or cold. In some cases, you may have trouble walking because nerve damage has impaired the muscles in your foot.
Impaired Wound Healing
Over time, diabetes can affect the flow of blood throughout the body. With reduced blood flow, it can take longer for wounds to heal. Slower healing wounds lead to diabetic foot ulcers that are vulnerable to infection—which can lead to the need for amputation if gangrene develops.
People who have poor blood flow due to diabetes are said to be suffering from peripheral artery disease (PAD) or peripheral vascular disease (PVD). PAD is the term for a condition that affects only arteries in the legs, while PVD is an umbrella term that includes damage to the arteries, veins, and lymphatic vessels in the legs as well as the arms, neck, and face.
What You Can Do to Care for Your Feet
Controlling your blood sugar is the best way to reduce your risk of foot-related complications. Other ways you can care for your feet include:
- Invest in quality shoes. Diabetic shoes are wider and deeper than average, include extra foam to reduce pressure points, and have no seams that can irritate tender skin. They protect the feet without increasing the risk of foot ulcers.
- Protect your feet with diabetic socks. Wearing diabetic socks keeps your feet dry, reduces the risk of injury, and enhances blood circulation.
- Don’t go barefoot. Even when you’re in your own home, you should wear socks and slippers to protect your feet.
- Perform daily foot exams. You should inspect your feet on a daily basis to ensure there are no sores or signs of irritation.
- Promote good circulation. Wiggling your toes and moving your ankles several times per day helps keep the blood flowing to your feet. You should also put your feet up when sitting and refrain from crossing your legs for long periods.
When to See a Podiatrist
It is recommended that people with diabetes see a podiatrist on a yearly basis for a comprehensive foot exam that can help spot potential problems. However, you should make an immediate appointment if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Dry, cracked skin on your feet
- Blisters, ingrown toenails, or other injuries that don’t seem to be healing correctly
- Tingling, burning, or pain in your feet or lower legs
- An inability to feel heat or cold
- Loss of hair on your feet and lower legs
- Pain or cramping during physical activity
- Changes in the shape, color, or departure of your feet
Most diabetic foot concerns can be effectively treated by a podiatrist, but prompt action is necessary for the best possible outcome.
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