Due to its impairment and effects on several body systems, it is easy to overlook how seriously diabetes can affect your foot health. Unfortunately, as a result of that systemic damage, foot problems can become serious medical complications.
Diabetes, Systemic Damage, and Your Feet
There are three body systems in particular that can play a role in contributing to issues in the lower limbs – the circulatory, immune, and nervous systems.
Your body’s circulatory system is responsible for ensuring that body tissues receive adequate supplies of oxygen and nutrients via the blood stream. Diabetes can impede the flow of blood throughout the body. This is problematic for just about any area of the body, but it’s even more concerning for your lower limbs – since they are the farthest points on the body from the heart.
With a diminished blood flow, biological tissues in the feet are weakened. Given the amount of force lower limbs absorb—even from simply walking around or just standing for extended periods—this is concerning. Bones, in particular, can be affected. This increases the risk for a condition known as Charcot foot (more on this shortly).
A compromised immune system means the body is unable to fight off infection and repair damaged cells as it should. For this reason, a case of fungal toenails can be a bigger issue than it would be for nondiabetic individuals.
The nervous system—which is actually comprised of two subsystems (the central nervous and peripheral nervous systems)—does so much for your body. This vast network of nerves can be thought of as internal communication between your brain and pretty much everywhere else. In fact, everything you do is enabled in some way by your nervous system!
Now, a key function of the peripheral nervous system specifically is to allow you to feel physical sensations. Sure, this is great for being able to appreciate things that look, sound, smell, taste, and feel pleasing to us, but it is also essential in keeping us safe.
Charcot foot and diabetic foot ulcers are two examples of very serious medical problems that can develop on account of this systemic damage caused by diabetes.
With diabetes, wounds do not heal properly and increase your infection risk. Over time, this can lead to diabetic foot ulcers – a leading cause of lower limb amputation.
Additionally, bones do not heal properly either. Given the fact they are weakened from poor circulation and you are unable to feel when they fracture, the small bones in your feet can easily break. Since you don’t feel this, you will continue normal use – which leads to additional breaking. This cycle continues until feet become extremely misshapen. This is Charcot foot and it can lead to further problems.
Types of Diabetic Shoes
For those in early stages of the disease or without a history of sensation loss or foot problems, you might simply need shoes constructed from softer materials that fit properly and have shock-absorbing soles. Proper fit is quite important, especially because ill-fitting shoes can lead to a host of issues. These issues can be bad enough for those who do not have a complicating disease, but they become outright dangerous for individuals who have diabetes.
Many diabetic individuals benefit from wearing prescription footwear. The models we can prescribe for you serve to achieve a variety of intended functions. They can have room for orthotic devices, provide extra shock-absorption and stabilizing materials, and be customized to accommodate specific needs.
Along with diabetic shoes, customized orthotics are another useful tool for keeping diabetic feet safe. Many people quickly associate orthotics with shoe inserts that can be purchased over-the-counter at pharmacies and stores. Those inserts do have their respective uses, but diabetic foot care is not one of them. Conversely, custom orthotics are prescribed by our office and customized for your unique feet and intended to work in accordance with how you walk (your gait pattern). They can control motion, provide structure, and redistribute harsh forces for your feet.
Essential Features of Diabetic Footwear
Always wearing the proper footwear is an important pillar of smart diabetic foot care. Diabetic footwear is selected to achieve the following objectives:
- Relieve excessive pressure. Skin breakdown and foot ulcers can develop in areas of the feet that are subjected to excessive pressure. This contributes to an increased risk for the dangerous infections we’ve previously noted. As such, diabetic footwear is worn to reduce the possibility of an ulcer developing.
- Reduce shear and shock. Whereas shock refers to vertical forces placed upon a foot with impact, shear is horizontal friction when a foot slides in a shoe. Both of these physical forces stress the feet in different ways, but they can each result in damaged tissue and other issues that create unsafe conditions.
- Support, accommodate and stabilize deformities. Conditions like hammertoes, Charcot foot, and limbs that have been amputated, need to be accommodated correctly to reduce the risk of further damage.
- Restrict motion in joints. Limiting the motion of various joints can relieve pain, decrease inflammation and stabilize the foot as a whole, all of which help prevent further issues.
Professional Diabetic Foot Care Services to Keep You Safe
Wearing the right diabetic shoes is a start for keeping your feet safe, but remember there are other important measures you need to take as well! If you would like assistance with any facet of diabetic foot care, don’t hesitate to contact us here at the office of Jan Tepper, DPM.
We will help you create a plan to keep your feet safe and understand which diabetic footwear options are best for you. You should also call us at the earliest possible opportunity if you ever notice anything unusual in your lower limbs. Remember, early intervention leads to best results!