How Does Diabetic Neuropathy Affect the Feet?

How Does Diabetic Neuropathy Affect the Feet?

About 50% of people with diabetes have diabetic neuropathy, a common but serious complication that causes irreversible nerve damage over time.

Most often, neuropathy affects your feet first — and it leads to symptoms like numbness, pain, and slow-healing wounds. If it’s left untreated, diabetic neuropathy can put your feet and your overall health at risk of some serious complications.

Fortunately, professional podiatry care helps you take control of your health. Lisa Burson, DPM, and Joe Aoun, DPM, specialize in diabetic foot care at The Foot & Ankle Specialists, and our team works with you to identify and treat issues before they get worse.

Diabetic neuropathy and your feet

There are four main types of diabetic neuropathy, and the most common is peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage that starts in your feet and legs, and eventually, it can affect your hands and arms.


One of the first symptoms of diabetic neuropathy is numbness in your feet. It might be intermittent at first, but it may get worse the longer your diabetes remains uncontrolled. Some people with diabetes lose all feeling in their feet.

Numbness can cause reduced sensitivity to pain, increasing the chances that you’ll suffer an injury without realizing it. It may also reduce your ability to feel temperature changes and put you at risk of burns or frostbite, since you won’t notice if your feet get too hot or too cold.

Tinging, burning, or pain

On the other hand, diabetic neuropathy can cause increased pain sensations in your feet. You may feel tingling, burning, or sensations of sharp pain. Some people report painful cramping or an increased sensitivity to touch. These heightened sensations can make walking or even wearing socks uncomfortable. 

Poor circulation

Along with reduced sensation, many people with diabetic neuropathy suffer from poor circulation in their feet and legs. Poor circulation means your feet may not get all the blood, oxygen, and nutrients they need.

Low blood flow increases your risk of other types of foot problems. Without proper blood supply, injuries heal slowly, and you may be more likely to develop painful skin cracks, corns, calluses, and foot ulcers that don’t heal.

Diabetic foot ulcers

Foot ulcers are one of the more serious complications of diabetic neuropathy, and they affect about 15% of people with diabetes. Ulcers are often the result of numbness, poor circulation, and other symptoms of diabetic neuropathy in the feet.

A foot ulcer is an open sore or wound that develops when an injury doesn’t heal properly. Ulcers put you at risk of infection, and in some cases, they require amputation to avoid life-threatening complications.

Taking care of your feet when you have diabetes

Neuropathy is a common complication of diabetes that poses a serious risk to your health. Although there’s no cure for diabetes or neuropathy, you can do a lot to maintain your health and lower your risk.

Managing your diabetes well is one of the best ways to avoid complications and keep neuropathy from worsening. Focus on keeping your blood sugar low by eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining your diabetes treatment plan with your health care team.

Along with controlling your diabetes, make sure you get regular diabetic foot exams. Dr. Burson and Dr. Aoun recommend that everyone with diabetes get a comprehensive foot exam at least once a year.

At your annual exam, we examine your feet for signs of injury, show you how to properly trim your toenails, and teach you ways to care for your feet at home. We also offer professional toenail trimming at our offices.

If you have a diabetic ulcer or other complications of diabetes, you may benefit from more frequent appointments. 

Take a proactive approach to diabetes management with foot care at The Foot & Ankle Specialists. Call our offices in Bay City, Caro, or Lapeer, Michigan, or request your appointment online to get started.

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