Foot pain can be due to diabetes — be sure to get it checked out!

Published Jan 28, 2018 at 9:00am

Diabetes is a chronic condition. Type 1 diabetes begins in young people. Type 2 diabetes is more common, beginning in adults, usually middle-aged to older, and often in people who are overweight.

Both types of diabetes cause high blood sugar. With Type 1, it is necessary to take insulin injections to keep the blood sugar down.

With type 2, insulin shots are not always necessary. Oral medication can be used.

The complications of diabetes are the same for both Type 1 and Type 2. Since diabetes causes high blood sugar, and since high blood sugar damages nerves, diabetic patients may have nerve damage, which is called neuropathy.

Peripheral neuropathy is usually damage to the nerves of the legs, especially the feet. The most disturbing symptom of peripheral neuropathy is pain. Tingling, numbness, and burning are other symptoms. 

Diabetic people also have problems with blood vessels, specifically arteries. Obstruction to blood flow can cause heart attacks and strokes. Regarding the feet, they also have obstruction to arteries of the legs. This is called peripheral arterial disease. The combination of damaged nerves and obstructed arteries – both causing foot pain – is difficult to treat. 

Numbness (or loss of sensitivity) can result from these complications of diabetes. In that case you may not feel small injuries, or blisters.

The blood flow problem means that small injuries may be slow to heal. Gradually an ulcer or persistent sore may develop, and the result may be the need for surgical amputation of a toe or part of the foot.

If you or a loved one is a diabetic, you may develop foot pain, numbness, tingling or burning. Your doctor may need to consider many possible causes of the discomfort, besides diabetes. Diabetic specialists (endocrinologists) may be helpful to determine the presence of diabetic neuropathy and peripheral arterial disease and will help plan treatment options.

The foot pain of diabetes is caused by high blood sugar. You need to work closely with your doctor and any specialists involved. You have three goals. You need to lower the blood sugar to decrease the nerve damage and artery damage. You need to relieve the pain. And you need to prevent damage to the toes and feet.

Lowering the blood sugar requires careful attention to details. You may need more than one oral diabetes medications, and/or you may need insulin.

Diet is important, especially cutting down on sugar and carbohydrates. You need to get regular exercise, walking a mile a day is a good goal. If you are still smoking, you must stop.

For the foot pain of diabetes, over-the-counter pain killers may be helpful, such as acetaminophen. Medications used for seizures may be prescribed and are often effective. 

A physical therapist may recommend exercises and other types of treatment. Diabetic patients should visit a foot doctor on a regular basis, to make sure their skin and nails and toes are all in good condition.

A foot doctor may also recommend special shoes and socks.

At the very least, diabetics should wear cotton socks and lace up shoes or sneakers.

They should check their own feet every evening to make sure there are no signs of trouble. If your feet hurt, it may be hard to get the exercise that you should. Visit a fitness site regularly and talk to the professionals there about what exercises would help. 

Living with diabetes is complicated, especially if you have peripheral neuropathy or peripheral arterial disease. However, if you work closely with your doctors and other professionals, you can continue to live an active and independent life.