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Don’t Let Diabetes Knock You Off Your Feet

Published on Sep 22, 2013
Authored by Diana Dills, MD

Do you have a pair of high heels or uncomfortable shoes that hurt your feet every time you wear them? You probably kick them off as soon as you get the chance, right? You might not if you have diabetes and suffer from peripheral neuropathy.

Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage caused by chronically high blood sugar levels. It especially affects the nerves in your hands and feet and leaves them unable to feel heat, cold, or pain. That means someone with diabetic peripheral neuropathy who wears shoes that cut into the ankles and toes won’t be able to feel the pain the shoes may be causing. And if left untreated, any cuts and blisters that occur could easily lead to skin ulcers or infections in someone with diabetes.

Peripheral neuropathy is the most common complication of diabetes: About 60% to 70% of people with diabetes will eventually develop nerve damage. But you don’t have to resign yourself to a fate of numb extremities or the health hazards that peripheral neuropathy can cause. Here are some steps you can take that may help prevent diabetes from knocking you off your feet:

  1. Keep blood sugar levels under control: This is perhaps the most important step you can take to both prevent nerve damage and control any pain or numbness you’re already experiencing. You may even regain some sensation lost due to peripheral neuropathy as you learn to control your blood sugar.
  2. Be open with your doctor: If you have diabetes, you should get a foot examination during every visit with your healthcare professional. And if you suspect you have peripheral neuropathy or have been feeling pain or numbness in your hands or feet, don’t forget to mention it during your appointment, if not before. A specialist will likely diagnose nerve damage by pressing a thin piece of plastic wire, called a monofilament, on your skin to see if you can feel it.
  3. Check your feet every night: Using a hand mirror, inspect your feet closely. If you can’t easily see your feet, ask your significant other or someone else to help you check for cuts and blisters. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you do spot a foot injury.
  4. Change your shoes: If you frequently find irritation on your feet, you should choose a different pair of shoes. There are also plenty of products available that help protect your soles, such as protective socks and cushioned shoe inserts.
  5. Leave a light on: People with peripheral neuropathy are at increased risk of falls, especially in the dark. When you can’t feel your feet, it’s difficult to keep your balance. Turn on a night-light for evening trips to the bathroom. You should also try to keep all of the rooms in your house free from clutter to avoid falls or injuries to your feet.

[1] [2]


  • 1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetic neuropathies: the nerve damage of diabetes. Accessed July 21, 2013.
  • 2. Jernigan SD, Pohl PS, Mahnken JD, Kluding PM. Diagnostic accuracy of fall risk assessment tools in people with diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Phys Ther. 2012; 92: 1461-1470. doi: 10.2522/ptj.20120070
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