Diabetic neuropathy is nerve damage caused by diabetes and high blood sugar. When it affects the arms, hands, legs and feet, it is known as diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN).
The symptoms of DPN can differ depending on the affected nerves. For some these symptoms can be mild, while for others than be painful and debilitating. As a foot and ankle clinic, our goal in treating DPN is to improve quality of life while also mitigating further pain and discomfort.
There are 3 different groups of nerves that can be affected by diabetic neuropathy.
Sensory nerves which send signals for pain, temperature, other sensations
Motor nerves, which control the muscles
Autonomic nerves, which facilitate involuntary functions such as sweating
Symptoms of neuropathy often begin in the toes and spread up the feet. Depending on the nerves involved, one or more symptoms may be present.
Numbness or tingling in the feet
Pain or discomfort in the feet or legs, including prickly, sharp pain or burning feet
Muscle weakness and loss of muscle tone in the feet and lower legs
Loss of balance
Changes in foot shape that can lead to areas of increased pressure
DPN develops over time and gradually worsens. Some may have this condition even before they are diagnosed as diabetic. As DPN progresses, the damaged nerves can cause further problems such as deformities, sores, and injuries due to numbness and lack of sensation.
To diagnose DPN, a foot and ankle surgeon will perform a simple in-office assessment.
The patient plays a primary role in the prevention and monitoring of DPN. Treatment may include making changes to nutrition and exercise habits, as well as basic foot care tips. Neuropathy can make it hard to feel injuries so it is also important to inspect your feet daily for any problems.
Here at Bellingham Foot and Ankle Clinic, our doctors specialize in lower extremity decompression nerve surgery (DNS) to treat the consequences of DPN. While it may not be recommended for all DPN patients, this procedure can help the nerve return to do its job of sending electrical signals to the brain and free up "choke points" on the nerve in order to relieve pain and discomfort.