Of the sixteen million Americans with diabetes, 25% develop foot problems related to the disease. This is primarily due to a condition called neuropathy. According to Dr. Suzanne Belyea, D.P.M., C. Ped. and medical director of Foot.com, diabetic neuropathy is a complication of diabetes that affects the nervous system. The most common type involves the peripheral sensory and motor nerves that originate from the brain and spinal cord and spread to the muscles, skin, internal organs and glands. Peripheral neuropathy impairs proper functioning of these nerves and causes numbness, usually in the feet and hands.
"Patients with diabetic neuropathy can lose the ability to feel pain, heat, and cold" explains Dr. Belyea. "They might be unaware of minor cuts, scrapes, blisters, or pressure sores that can cause serious complications if left untreated, including ulceration and even amputation". Neuropathy can also cause deformities such as bunions, hammer toes, and charcot feet.
Because of the potentially serious consequences of neuropathy, people with diabetes must take extra precautions to prevent all foot-related injuries. The most successful way to prevent diabetic neuropathy is to control the diabetes by maintaining normal blood sugar levels and blood pressure. It is also important to exercise regularly (according to your doctor's recommendation), stop smoking, limit the amount of alcohol you drink, have regular physical exams, have regular blood and urine tests.
Footwear and orthotics play an important role in diabetic footcare because footwear that fits poorly can cause irritation and injury that might not be noticed by patients with neuropathy. Orthotics designed with Plastazote®, the premier material for protecting the insensitive diabetic foot, are recommended. Plastazote is designed to accommodate pressure "hot spots" by conforming its shape to heat and pressure, providing the comfort and protection needed by diabetics. Diabetic footwear should also provide the following benefits: high, wide toe box (high and wide space in the toe area), removable insoles for fitting flexibility and the option to insert orthotics if necessary, rocker soles designed to reduce pressure in the areas of the foot most susceptible to pain, most notably the heel and the ball-of-the-foot, firm heel counters for extra support and stability.
It is critical for people with neuropathy to take the necessary precautions to prevent injury and keep their feet healthy. If you have diabetes and are experiencing a foot problem, immediately consult with your foot doctor.
Run The Planet thanks Foot.com (www.foot.com) - the "Foot Health Network" dedicated to educating the public about foot health, pain and products - for the permission to reprint the article "Diabetic neuropathy and foot care". Text copyright © 2001 by Foot.com. Illustration copyright © 2002 by Run The Planet.