If you’re facing the challenges of diabetes, foot health might not be the first thing on your mind. However, your feet reflect your overall well-being. Foot health should be a top concern for individuals with diabetes—and the Portland podiatrists at Northwest Extremity Specialists are committed to caring for your feet so you can remain healthy and active for years to come.
Diabetic neuropathy, a consequence of prolonged elevated blood sugar levels, can lead to nerve damage. This condition predominantly affects the peripheral nerves that transmit sensory information from the extremities to the brain. These peripheral nerves play a crucial role in maintaining communication between the body and the brain, ensuring an accurate perception of touch, temperature, and pain signals.
Diabetic neuropathy can lead to reduced sensation or even a complete loss of sensation in the feet. This creates a challenge in identifying injuries such as cuts, blisters, or ulcers because you can’t rely on pain to alert you to a serious problem. Instead, regular visits to our Portland podiatry office help ensure that any wounds are promptly treated.
Diminished Blood Flow
Diabetes significantly elevates the risk of peripheral arterial disease (PAD), a condition characterized by the narrowing or blockage of arteries that impede blood flow to the extremities, particularly the legs and feet. This restricted circulation hampers the body's ability to supply essential nutrients and oxygen to the foot tissues.
Insufficient blood flow slows healing and weakens the immune system's ability to combat infections. Consequently, the risk of developing gangrene, tissue death due to infection and lack of blood flow, increases. In some instances, amputation made be needed to prevent the spread of infection.
Impaired Immune Function and Slow Healing
Elevated blood sugar levels in diabetes can compromise the immune system's effectiveness in responding to infections. This accelerated progression of infections increases the likelihood of severe complications if these infections are not promptly treated.
Furthermore, impaired immune function affects the body's ability to manage inflammation. Inflammation is a natural part of the healing process, but in individuals with diabetes, it can become chronic and hinder the repair of damaged tissues. This delayed healing further exacerbates the risk of infections complicating foot health.
Skin Health and Moisture Levels
Diabetes can lead to dry skin due to reduced sweat and oil production, increasing susceptibility to cracks and fissures. The role of proper skin hydration and care is not only to prevent dryness but also to maintain the skin's natural defenses against external threats. The compromised skin barrier function due to dryness can allow allergens and pathogens to penetrate more easily—further exacerbating the risk of infections.
Ensuring proper moisture levels in the skin is a fundamental aspect of comprehensive foot care for individuals with diabetes. Our Portland podiatrists can recommend moisturizers and other products that will help you keep your feet in top condition.
Muscle Weakness, Gait Changes, and Foot Deformities
Diabetic neuropathy leads to the weakening and atrophy of the muscles in the feet due to nerve damage. This muscle weakness subsequently impacts the structure of the foot, causing alterations in its shape and mechanics. The resultant changes in foot mechanics disrupt the normal pressure distribution during walking, heightening the risk of developing calluses, corns, and ulcers.
The changes in gait resulting from muscle weakness can lead to biomechanical imbalances that affect the entire lower body. Hip, knee, and lower back pain can become more prevalent as the body compensates for the changes in foot function. Therefore, addressing muscle weakness and gait changes isn't solely about foot health but also about promoting overall musculoskeletal well-being.
Balance and Coordination Challenges
Diabetic individuals often experience challenges in maintaining proper balance and coordination. This is due to the combined effects of reduced sensation caused by neuropathy and muscle weakness. These neuromuscular changes can lead to difficulties in balance that increase the risk of falls and potential injuries.
Beyond the immediate risk of falls, compromised balance and coordination can also impact the overall physical activity levels of individuals with diabetes. Reduced activity can further contribute to muscle weakness and deteriorating bone health, creating a feedback loop that exacerbates foot and overall health issues. Addressing balance challenges involves preventing falls and supporting an active lifestyle that enhances overall well-being.