Diabetes can cause loss of feeling in the feet, and because of this, broken foot bones are a lot more common among those living with diabetes than many people realize.
I’ve broken four bones in my right foot and two in my left, and I never once felt it. It was surprising to wake up one morning to see the ball of my foot the size of a softball and not feel anything. I could see it was red and swollen, and experience told me it should hurt. But I didn’t feel a thing. It was kind of cool in some respects — the first time it happened. But it got real old real quick. Especially because it takes an average of three months for the bones to heal. Yeah, slower healing. Another “benefit” of diabetes.
The root of this diabetes-related issue is peripheral neuropathy, or the loss of feeling in the extremities, especially the feet. The nerves get damaged by long-term exposure to high blood sugar. Sometimes there is partial feeling, sometimes none. Sometimes there is little to no feeling in addition to intense “false” feelings — an aching, tingling, heat or “electric” pain.
It is not known exactly why us diabetic people without feeling in their feet suffer more foot fractures, but it probably has to do with the fact that we don’t know as well where our feet are or how we are placing them on the ground. But the real problem is that without pain, it is easy to ignore a foot fracture. And when ignored and left untreated, broken foot bones can lead to Charcot foot or diabetic rocker foot. (Check them out online, but be warned: They can be kind of unsettling).
More common than broken bones, though, are skin injuries often called ulcers. Small skin abrasions or blisters normally quickly heal. . Usually even minor infections heal. But infections can get worse, and with poor feeling, they can go unnoticed. It’s when an infection gets a unnoticed foothold (pardon the pun) that major problems set in. These infections can result in hospitalizations, the infamous diabetic amputation or even death.
Another common foot problem diabetic people face is dried-out skin. Moisturizing can easily be incorporated into a daily inspection routine. Keeping the skin supple helps prevent cracking, bleeding and possible infection.
Another issue is athlete’s foot. While the fungal infection is a common skin problem, for those with diabetes, it can take longer to heal.
If you have poor feeling in your feet, check them on a daily bais for small wounds, calluses, blisters, cracked skin and so on. And after checking your feet, give them some TLC. Rub them with cream or lotion to keep the skin supple and moist — but not between the toes, because too much moisture can encourage fungus and that’s no good, either.
How do you know if you have poor feeling in the feet? Every diabetic person should have a monofilament foot test done every year; if you have not, ask your diabetes care provider.
In spite of vigilant inspection, it’s still possible to experience problems. Sadly, there are no guarantees that even following best practices will prevent diabetic complications. Will it reduce the likelihood? Definitely. Will it absolutely prevent them? Not with today’s medicine.
Until then, I do what I can to minimize potential problems, because it’s my health. No one cares about it like I do.