Foot Pain
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Diabetic Foot Pain: What It Is and Potential Complications

Nearly one out of three people living with diabetes suffer from diabetic foot pain. Learn more about foot complications and preventative measures to take.

Published on
October 21, 2022
Skin and toenail pealing from diabetic toe

Diabetes is an ongoing condition where your body has problems making or using insulin properly. Without proper insulin production or use, your cells do not take up glucose well, and glucose levels remain elevated in your blood. Over time, this can damage your body and lead to health problems, like diabetic foot pain. 

What Is Diabetic Foot Pain?

Diabetic foot pain is the burning, tingling sensations, deep aching, or sharp pain diabetic patients often experience in their feet. The pain is known as neuropathy, and nerve dysfunction or damage causes it to develop. 

There are different types of neuropathy, and symptoms can vary depending on the specific type. The cause of severe foot pain is focal neuropathy, which affects one nerve at a time, or peripheral neuropathy, which affects the nerves that extend from your spine to your limbs. Peripheral neuropathy often causes pain in both feet but can also spread to your hands and arms.  

The exact cause of diabetic foot neuropathy is unknown, but a few factors may contribute. These include:

  • Uncontrolled blood sugar. High blood sugar causes a buildup of chemicals that damage the nerves and block nerve signals. 
  • Poor blood flow. High blood sugar can also damage blood vessels that bring blood and oxygen to the nerves.
  • Metabolic conditions. High blood pressure and blood fat levels can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries and vessels and cause them to narrow. As they narrow, blood loses the ability to flow through properly, causing damage and pain.
  • Inherited traits. Genetic changes link to an increased risk of diabetic neuropathy.
  • Lifestyle habits. Smoking and chronic drinking can worsen nerve damage and nerve pain.  

Potential Diabetes Complications on Foot Health

Diabetic foot pain is a common side effect of diabetes. However, diabetes can also lead to other foot health complications, such as the following:

Nerve Damage From Diabetic Neuropathy

As diabetic foot neuropathy advances, damage moves from nerve sensitivity and pain to gradual total loss of feeling in your skin and feet. You lose the ability to sense heat, cold, pain, injuries, and skin irritations and may not notice serious foot problems. You might even have trouble feeling your feet as you walk, raising your risk of falling. 

Nerve damage can also cause other diabetic feet problems, including:

  • Dry skin
  • Cracked skin
  • Brittle toenails
  • Ankle weakness
  • Claw toes

Difficulty Walking and Fitting Shoes Due to Diabetic Calluses

Calluses are patches of thickened, hard skin that form in response to stress, friction, and pressure. If you have diabetes, calluses can build up faster for several reasons.

Nerve damage leads to changes in your foot muscles that can cause your foot to develop an abnormal shape. In addition, damage to nerves affects the collagen in your joints, leading to weakness or loss of movement. The combination of physical deformity and poor joint movement changes the way you walk.

As your gait changes, the pressure shifts on your feet and causes stress, and you end up with calluses. You may also struggle to find shoes that fit, which can rub your skin and aggravate your calluses. Over time, these calluses thicken significantly, break down into an open sore, and get infected. 

Slow or Non-Healing Diabetic Foot Ulcers

Diabetic ulcers on your feet are open sores. They can start on the surface of your skin but also erode into deeper layers of tissue. Ulcers begin as calluses and break down as they become constantly irritated. 

One of the primary risks associated with diabetes is a slower ability to heal. Diabetes interferes with your blood vessels, which causes poor circulation. Without proper blood flow, your feet and ulcers do not get enough of the blood, oxygen, nutrients, and medications they need to heal. Delayed healing leads to tissue death called gangrene and, potentially, loss of a limb. 

Frequent Foot Infections

Frequent foot infections are also common complications of diabetes. With diabetes, your skin often becomes dry and cracked, your feet physically change, and you may develop irritation, blisters, and sores that you might not have noticed. Bacteria can enter the cracks and sores in your skin and cause infections. Fungal infections, like athlete’s foot, can also develop between your toes or on your toenails. 

Slow or non-healing ulcers are also at risk of infection. As ulcers get deeper into the tissues, the infection can spread to your tendons, muscles, bones, and blood. With frequent infections, bacteria may also become resistant to antibiotics and hard to treat. 

Prevent Diabetic Foot Pain With Proper Foot Care

One of the best ways to prevent foot pain and further complications is to maintain proper foot care. Start by checking your feet every day. You can avoid problems by catching and treating problems early on. Staying on top of your diabetic foot pain treatment is critical and can help you prevent unmanageable pain. 

Other foot care tips include:

  • Avoid going barefoot. Always wear shoes and socks to protect your skin. High-quality antimicrobial socks, like the official sock of The Toe Bro, can help manage odor and bacteria on your feet. Protection can also help prevent foreign objects from getting stuck in your skin and causing a foot injury. 
  • Wash your feet daily. Use warm water to wash your feet but avoid soaking them. Dry them with a clean towel and apply lotion to prevent cracked skin.
  • Trim your toenails straight across. File down any sharp edges, too.
  • Have a professional trim your calluses. Ask your chiropodist or podiatrist to remove your calluses, to prevent skin damage and infection. 
  • Wear shoes that fit. Always wear socks in your shoes and break new shoes in slowly.
  • Take diabetic foot pain medications. You can treat mild pain with over-the-counter pain relievers. If they are ineffective, talk to your doctor about medication. Supportive shoes, biofeedback, acupuncture, and transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy might also help.

Visit Your Foot Doctor if You Have Diabetes-Related Foot Complications

Diabetes is a chronic condition and often causes complications. However, you can often avoid life-threatening complications with proper foot care and regular checkups with your doctor. In addition to visiting your foot doctor, check out The Toe Bro's quality products to help keep your feet healthy.

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