Foot Problems Caused by Diabetes

Orthopaedic & Spine Center

Diabetes is one of the leading causes of disability and death in the United States.

In 2014, the Center for Disease Control reported the following:

•    9.3% or 29.1 million persons in the US have diabetes.
•    8.1 million persons in the US have undiagnosed diabetes

Given those astounding numbers, you would think Americans would shape up, eat right and start making those statistics a thing of the past.  Instead, we continue to see diabetes increase in adults and in children.

Uncontrolled Diabetes can cause a myriad of concurrent health conditions, including eye disease, peripheral neuropathy, kidney failure, heart failure, peripheral artery disease (poor circulation) arthritis, depression, obesity, poor healing, skin ulcers…the list goes on and on.  OSC Specialists see problems that develop in diabetics related to their bones, muscles and nerves, many in the feet.

Because the nerves are easily damaged in a person with diabetes, many diabetics start losing feeling in their feet or normal feeling is replaced with tingling, numbness or burning.  This is known as peripheral neuropathy. This is especially dangerous because normal sensation, whether good or bad, tells our brain if all is well or if there is a problem.  A lack of pain sensation can spell trouble, because our toe that we stubbed or broke may not hurt, we can’t tell if we have stepped on glass or burned our foot in a too hot bathtub.

Because diabetics may not feel injury or pain in their feet, common small injuries often go unnoticed and untreated. Blood circulation issues tend to go hand-in hand with peripheral neuropathy.  This means that a diabetic’s blood does not circulate to their extremities well, called peripheral artery or vascular disease.  A good blood supply helps any injuries heal quickly, as our blood contains the nutrients, clotting factors and blood cells that stimulate recovery.  Our blood also carries away the waste products and dead cell matter associated with healing.

Without good circulation, simple burns can become infected, broken toes can rot and become gangrenous or fractured foot bones can result in a person becoming unable to walk and bound to a wheelchair.

Unfortunately, if these issues aren’t addressed quickly and aggressively, a person may face months or years of treatment, ultimately resulting in amputation or toes, part of the foot or more.

If you are a diabetic, injury prevention and good foot care is a must.  Some general foot care rules for diabetics are:

1.    Keep feet clean and dry.  Avoid lotions between the toes which can cause infection.
2.    Do a foot inspection twice daily to find any cuts, bruises or injuries that may have happened, but you may not have felt.
3.    If you cannot reach your feet well, go to a certified diabetic manicurist for regular toenail trims and foot care.
4.    Wear supportive, well-fitting shoes.
5.    If you develop a blister or find an injury, inform your PCP.  They may recommend that you be seen to adequately assess the injury and to offer appropriate treatment.
6.    Never use a hot water bottle or heating pad on your feet.
7.    Do gentle exercise, like walking or swimming to increase muscle tone, increase circulation and to improve over-all health.