**Disclaimer - This is a guest blog by Solesee**
When your feet ache it’s usually a signal that you probably need to rest them. However, the alarm bells should start ringing when you can’t actually feel any pain in your feet or toes. In this instance your feet and toes could be affected by what is known as “Peripheral Neuropathy”. This condition, caused by a number of different health issues, affects the feet and could be responsible for reducing your lifespan without you even knowing anything about it. Although there are a number of health issues that cause peripheral neuropathy to occur, this blog post is going to focus on how it affects diabetics.
So what is Peripheral Neuropathy?
Let’s start by looking at the definition of the individual words:
Peripheral is defined as on the edge or at the ending as in the term ‘on the periphery of…’. As far as you body is concerned this means the feet, toes and tips of your fingers.
Neuropathy is defined as a disease or a dysfunction of one or more peripheral nerves. Anything that affects the nerves usually causes a weakness or numbness to occur.
Therefore, in layman’s terms, peripheral neuropathy is classed as a condition that causes damage to the nerves in your feet and other extremities of the body, resulting in a loss of sensation or feeling. This can manifest itself in many ways: a tingling feeling; muscle weakness; shooting or stabbing pains at random points; loss of balance; or complete numbness.
How does peripheral neuropathy affect people with diabetes?
So what does this mean for you, as a diabetic, in relation to your feet? How much about the importance of foot care been explained to you in detail? The key thing is that if you have peripheral neuropathy there will be certain spots under your feet that you may not be able to feel. The result of this, more importantly, is that you may not notice whether or not you have hurt your foot. Putting the fact that you’ve diabetes into the mix, brings the added complication that wounds you do get are slower to heal than somebody without diabetes. But how would that happen, you may be thinking. All I need to say is blisters due to a shoe rubbing your heel, a small stone that has got into your shoe and is now stuck between the bottom of your foot and your shoe and, a personal favourite of mine, walking across a hot sandy beach on holiday. There are many causes of wounds on your feet, and sadly as a diabetic they’re much more difficult to treat.
Should I care about peripheral neuropathy?
Let’s be fair. Most people tend to neglect their feet at some point. Daily we push them into (often ill-fitting) shoes, some of which rub and pinch our feet. When was the last time you clipped your toenails? You are not alone as most people leave it until absolutely necessary. As we don’t tend to wear shoes around the house we stub our toes on chairs, tables, etc. Think about the general forces that you inflict on them – your whole body weight for a start. This weight is too much to be counterbalanced by the cushioning in most people’s shoes. Not surprising when you consider that your big toe alone takes 40-60% of your body weight. Still surprised that your feet sometimes hurt? Well if this happens to you it’s a warning that maybe something is not quite right.
But hang on, what if I have peripheral neuropathy? Doesn’t this mean that I can’t feel the pain that most people feel? Yes. This simple warning system is not there for you. This means it now needs replacing. Your body is good at counteracting a deficiency in your senses. If touch and feeling is taken away, you can switch to using one of your other senses – your eyes. You should be looking under your feet on a regular basis. If you don’t it might be too late by the time that you do. Any rubbing shoe or simply even dry skin can cause the skin to crack, creating a small wound, which might already be infected. And you wouldn’t know this if you haven’t looked at your feet. Infections can be very painful and take a long time to heal properly, especially in a diabetic as blood flow to the feet may be reduced. If the infection has spread too far it can lead to amputation of the infected limb. If that wasn’t bad enough an amputation can also take ages to heal, possibly resulting in multiple amputations. Statistics show that once a person with diabetes has an amputation, the risks of morbidity are higher than in a person without diabetes. Don’t let this happen to you.