Why Your Nerve Wiring Is Essential to Your Diabetic Foot Health

Dr. Corey Fox
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Director of Massapequa Podiatry Associates

Think of a suspenseful horror movie (but not in too scary detail; this is still a family-friendly blog).

The protagonist knows the danger is out there. Lurking. Waiting to strike. But as long as they can see what’s coming, they should be able to make it out alright!

…And that, of course, is when the power to the house gets cut.

What does this have to do with your foot health and diabetes? There’s a pretty apt metaphor in all of this.

The Problem Is Coming from Inside the House

The complications of diabetes are the threat in the movie, out to ruin and destroy. When it comes to our feet, this tends to happen over a gradual period of time.

Diabetes has a tendency to interfere with our circulation, and the feet are among the first victims to suffer from this. They’re the farthest parts of us from our hearts, after all, so it takes more effort for blood to reach them with all the oxygen, nutrients, and other factors our cells need to conduct repairs.

As the effects of diabetes contribute to weakness and narrowing in our blood vessels, the feet can begin to gradually suffer more and more. Cuts and other injuries on the feet can take longer to heal as the cells receive reduced supplies to complete the job.

It can worsen to a point where an injury takes a long time to heal, or maybe doesn’t even have a chance to heal without medical intervention. That’s really bad, since you’re basically allowing wounds to open wider and become infected.

But we have a built-in system that helps with all this—when it is working properly.

Killing the Alarm

When even a small cut can turn into a huge problem, our nerves are there to alert us to damage. This is important because when we know something is wrong, we can take steps to address it.

But just like the lights going out in a scary movie, diabetes can also cause our nerves to “flicker” and go out over time. Complications can cause direct damage, and our nerves also depend greatly on our blood supply for optimal function. The same thing that hurts the rest of our cells will hurt our nerves as well.

At first, you may feel pain, tingling, and other sensations as your nerves become damaged (aka peripheral neuropathy). Gradually, you may start to feel less of these sensations and more of… nothing at all.

As numbness creeps in, your capacity to detect the pain of injuries also diminishes. Eventually, it can reach the point where you don’t realize you have an injury on your foot without actually seeing it.

The thought of that might sound pretty silly if you aren’t at the stage when you experience it yourself, but we assure you it is true. There are too many diabetic foot cases where an injury went unnoticed for too long. What might have been a small cut or sore was continually walked on, allowing the problem to grow into a deep ulcer that needed much more intensive attention than it would have originally. In some cases, infection and destruction had set in so severely that an amputation was required.

We don’t say this in an attempt to frighten you into anything, but the risks do exist—and they are relatively easy to fight back against.

Giving Your Feet a Happier Ending

As much of a dark force as diabetes may seem, you can fight back against it in substantial ways, helping to preserve the health of both your feet and your nerves.

If you are experiencing tingling, shooting pains, or other abnormal sensations in your feet, the time to take steps to address that is now. It is not something to wait on, because the outcome is likely going to be the problem becoming worse faster than if you started treatment.

Treatment for neuropathy can significantly slow its progress, and sometimes stop it entirely. A plan may include one or more of the following:

  • Changes in diet and physical activity
  • Quitting smoking and/or limiting alcohol consumption
  • Physical therapy
  • Electrical nerve stimulation
  • Medication

An effective plan to maintain the health of your nerves now will have benefits for you farther down the road.

Similarly, keeping an eye on your feet in general now can help identify and manage problems before they have the chance to turn into something serious. This means inspecting your feet every day for signs of trouble such as cuts, sores, discoloration—anything that isn’t normal and should not be there.

When you find something, let us know. We can advise you to keep an eye on it, or recommend you come in (if it’s something that needs more attention). We will have a record either way, and a history of what has been going on with your feet. This can allow us to make even better decisions on how to help prevent additional problems in the future.

Once again, do not wait for the situation to become bad. That’s as foolish as going down into the basement alone and saying you’ll be right back! Give Massapequa Podiatry Associates a call at (516) 541-9000 or fill out our online contact form to request an appointment.

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