If you have diabetes, there are many different—and serious—implications for your physical health and wellbeing, including heart disease, kidney disease, pancreas malfunction, and vision problems (even blindness!).
Obviously, this disease poses some major risks to your overall health, but it’s important not to look past the ways diabetes can affect the health of your feet!
Now, we offer a wide range of podiatry services for you and fellow members of our Greater Phoenix community. These include things like providing expert treatment for heel pain and sports injuries—including advanced (noninvasive) laser therapy to treat soft tissue injuries—prescribing custom orthotics to improve biomechanics, and performing effective procedures to resolve nerve issues in feet and ankles.
Quite possibly even more important than those, however, are the diabetic foot care services we provide right here in Surprise, AZ. As you’ll see, diabetes is a huge problem—both on societal and personal levels.
Why is diabetes such a big deal?
Let’s start by taking a quick look at why this is a serious issue for our society. Consider:
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 100 million adults in our country are currently considered to be either diabetic or prediabetic.
To provide context, our nation’s population is roughly 325 million (total). A little math shows that this means almost 1 out of every 3 people are living with diabetes or prediabetes.
And that’s a significant problem for our society’s healthcare system.
But here’s the thing:
Diabetes is an even bigger problem for people on a personal level.
This condition causes widespread systemic damage throughout almost the entire human body—and especially when it comes to the nervous, immune, and circulatory systems we rely on to keep us alive.
The increased risk in critical health issues like strokes, heart attacks, kidney failure, and blindness stems from that systemic damage.
Okay, we understand if you read that and think your feet are clearly the least of your concerns (in comparison to such profound medical emergencies). The problem, though, is that mindset can be a big mistake.
So how does diabetes affect your feet?
As is the case with essentially any other part of your body, your feet and ankles have numerous blood vessels and nerve tissues that provide nourishment, enable movement, and allow physical sensation.
On top of that, your feet are truly complex structures—they contain a staggering number of bones, muscles, and the connective tissues keeping everything together and functional.
All those anatomical components are negatively affected by the disease.
Thanks to efforts like National Diabetes Awareness Month (November) and other educational campaigns, the odds are decent that you at least have a general idea as to what happens with diabetes:
The body has become unable to either produce or respond (or both) to insulin.
Insulin is an important hormone, one responsible for regulating glucose (sugar) levels in the bloodstream. Due to either limited production or lack of normal response, affected individuals tend to have higher-than-normal blood sugar levels—and one reason that’s so concerning is because excess sugar damages our nerves.
Diabetes, neuropathy, and feet
Nerve damage (neuropathy) from diabetes is a particularly dangerous situation.
Sure, the initial wave of symptoms—which often include abnormal sensations (such as painful tingling, burning, and “pins and needles”)—tend to be quite frustrating, but there’s more to the story:
If the situation goes untreated, the damage can worsen to the point your nerves lose their ability to perform sensory functions.
That means your feet could possibly sustain wounds like cuts, scrapes, ingrown toenails (etc.)—and you wouldn’t be aware of it.
Even though it might sound like a good thing not to experience painful sensations, the fact of the matter is that you rely on pain to identify existing issues (so you or your body can take appropriate measures to address them).
It might help to think about it like this:
If you accidentally put a hand on a hot oven burner, you feel pain. And because you do, you pull your hand away, right?
See, the pain helps you avoid further damage from happening.
Diabetic neuropathy can take away that ability.
In fact, the American Diabetes Association reports that 60-70% of people with diabetes suffer from nervous system damage!
Now let’s consider two facts about your feet—A) they are often enclosed in shoes and socks, and B) they’re the farthest points on your body from your eyes.
Those factors alone mean you are less likely to visually see any damage and/or irregularities, which is why losing your sense of touch down there is so concerning. (Hold this thought for a second!)
Other systemic damage (from diabetes)
In addition to damaging your peripheral nerves—the ones your body uses to experience the sensation of physical touch—this disease also compromises your immune system.
Adding that factor into the mix, the situation now looks like this:
The wounds you aren’t even aware exist will heal more slowly than they should—if they even heal at all!
That’s bad enough, but it gets worse when you think about the role your immune system normally plays in fighting off microbial contaminants (like viruses, bacteria, and fungi).
To put it simply:
If you don’t catch lower limb issues in the early stages, they can escalate into very severe problems.
So just how severe are we talking about?
Well, it’s been reported in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association that the 5-year mortality rate of diabetic foot ulcers is higher than those for several leading types of cancer (including breast, colon, and prostate cancer, and Hodgkin’s disease).
In case it needs to be stated more succinctly—we’re talking about life-threatening issues.
Hopefully that helps you understand exactly why diabetic foot care is so important.
Okay, what does diabetic foot care entail?
From a general perspective, there are a couple of key pillars to diabetic foot care:
1.) Protection. As you’ll see momentarily, we are here with the treatment you need, when you need it. That said, it is much better to prevent issues from developing in the first place—and to that end, protecting your feet is an essential part of responsible diabetic foot care. Our team will provide guidance, assist you in creating a diabetic foot care plan, recommend appropriate footwear, and possibly even prescribe custom orthotics (to redistribute force loads and keep excess pressure off specific areas).
2.) Detection. For this pillar, there are two important considerations—daily foot inspections and regularly-scheduled office visits.
As noted earlier, diabetes can take away your ability to feel issues, so you must perform a daily foot inspection. In doing so, you will check all surfaces (tops, sides, bottom) and the areas between your toes for both feet. If you’re unable to see the bottoms of your feet, either enlist the help of a family member or use a tool (like a long-handled mirror or a selfie stick and your smartphone). Be consistent with this practice—and place emphasis on the “daily” element!
In addition to checking your own feet, be sure to set up regular appointments with our office. Sure, you are able to see your feet every day, but we only get the opportunity when you come in for an office visit. And when you do, you receive a thorough inspection from professionals who are trained and experienced in looking for both existing and potential issues.
3.) Early intervention. This third pillar is only necessary when issues develop—but it could quite possibly save your life. So in the event you discover ANYTHING unusual during your daily foot inspection (ingrown toenails, cuts, blisters, plantar warts, corns or calluses, etc.) or you observe injury from physical trauma at the time it occurs (like if you see that you’ve stubbed your toe), contact us as soon as you can and request the earliest possible appointment. We have had great success with reducing wounds faster with our MLS laser treatment. As is often the case with health issues, foot conditions and problems are usually most easily and effectively treated in earlier stages.
Get diabetic foot care help today!
In the event you happen to be one of the millions of Americans who have diabetes, we hope you already have a foot care plan in place—and are following it properly!
If you need to create one, come see us here at Fixing Feet Institute. Our team works with you to keep your feet as safe as possible. More than that, we will help you understand what measures you can take to catch problems at their earliest, most treatable stages.
Remember, making (and keeping!) regularly-scheduled appointments with our Surprise, AZ podiatrist office is an essential step in preventing toe, foot, or leg amputation—or even worse—due to diabetes.
If you’d like more information or need to request an appointment, simply call us at (623) 584-5556. You can also feel free to take advantage of our online form to connect with us right now.