Diabetes is a tricky disease. Sugar build up in the blood stream can damage tiny blood vessels that supply nerve endings, resulting in skin numbness. The feet are at the highest risk for nerve damage (neuropathy) and folks with diabetes often cannot sense pain in their feet.
How many of us have gotten blisters from ill fitting shoes? Painful, right? Well imagine if you didn’t feel the pain of the blistering and kept on walking, oblivious to the injury. Eventually you’d have a pretty bad sore there. This is what happens to people with diabetes who don’t choose their shoes carefully. In addition, sores don’t heal well because of the decreased blood supply to the area (from the damaged blood vessels). And to top it off, the high sugar levels in the sores provides additional sustenance to any bacteria that might be lurking on the skin. It’s pretty easy for diabetics to develop infected wounds, which can grow larger and even require amputations of dead tissue.
A recent research study suggests that the secret to avoiding this downward spiral is in choosing shoes that fit well – though they estimate that as few as one third of people with diabetes actually wear optimal fitting shoes. This may be because there is a strange temptation for people with diabetes to choose extra small shoes due to their neuropathy. When normal sensation is lost in the feet, tight fitting shoes actually feel better because they can be sensed more readily by the brain. So even though spacious shoes that don’t cramp the toes or cause blistering are the best footwear, they don’t always feel as comfortable. However, patients with diabetes who are properly fitted for orthopedic shoes with the help of a physiatrist or podiatrist, may substantially reduce their risk of ulcers.
So the bottom line for people with diabetes: choose your footwear carefully, and get professional help to make sure that your shoes fit well. Proper shoes could help to decrease your risk for foot and leg ulcers and potential amputations.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.