Studies suggest that one in three people in the US has diabetes. In fact, these figures may be higher as people living in rural areas may not be diagnosed correctly. Diabetes is a condition in which your body is unable to regulate the amount of sugar in your blood; this can be due to a lack of insulin being produced or to your body's inability to process the insulin. This can usually be controlled with diet and medication. However, too much sugar in the body, especially over a long period of time, can damage blood vessels and nerves. Nerve damage is called neuropathy; when it is a result of diabetes, it is called diabetic neuropathy; current estimates suggest that more than 70% of people with diabetes have diabetic neuropathy.
What Does Diabetic Nerve Pain in the Feet Feel like?
Nerve damage almost always starts in the extremities of the body. This is why your feet are usually the first to be affected, although it can happen to your hands, arms and even your legs. The first stages of pain are
The first thing you are likely to feel is a tingling sensation. This can either be a burning sensation or the feeling of being pricked with a sharp needle. You will have experienced this before if you have been sitting in an awkward position and the blood flow to a hand or foot has temporarily stopped. The ‘pins and needles' sensation as the blood rushes back to your foot is the same as the tingling sensation of diabetic neuropathy, except that there is no visible blood constriction.
It is normal for the foot to feel numb. This means that you will have no sensation. Although this may seem like a relief compared to the tingling pain, it is more dangerous. Firstly, it means that your nerves have shut down; this may be temporary, but it shows that they are being damaged. Secondly, the inability to feel your feet means that you will not be able to feel if you have cut yourself. In fact, you may find it difficult to walk because you cannot feel when your foot hits the ground. This can make you walk as if you are drunk and increase your risk of falling.
- Shooting Pain
You may also experience shooting pains. These will occur suddenly and then randomly. The pain is likely to be deliberate; especially as it is intense and unannounced. It can be compared to the sharp pain of cramps; but worse!
- Temperature Fluctuation
Diabetic neuropathy can cause you to feel warm objects as extremely hot or even extremely cold. This is because the damaged nerves are unable to differentiate between sensations and react in a protective mode. Of course, this reaction is likely to cause additional accidents; for example, if you go into a swimming pool and the footbath feels hot, you may jump in shock and fall over.
- Pain Spreads
As your condition worsens, it is likely that the nerve damage will spread. This means that the sensations you feel in your feet may move up your legs. At this point, many people with diabetic neuropathy have reported that even the simplest movement, such as tapping your foot on the floor, can send an excruciating amount of pain down your foot and up your leg.
How to Deal with Diabetic Nerve Pain in the Feet
Nerve damage is usually irreversible. However, it is possible to minimise future damage to your body. There are several ways to do this:
- Blood Sugar
You will need to check and control your blood glucose regularly. This will prevent it from getting too high and causing damage to one of your nerves; or any other damage. The best way to do this is to work out a diet with a good dietician and stick to it!
Exercise increases blood flow around the body and helps to ensure that all vital parts of the body get enough oxygen. This can help prevent damage to your nerves. More importantly, exercise burns sugar. This can help to reduce the amount you have in your body; reducing the effects of high blood sugar levels and helping you to manually control your blood sugar levels. It has even been suggested that because exercise lowers blood glucose levels, it can improve the way your body uses insulin. Any pain in your feet should be taken seriously. If it matches the symptoms here, you should see a healthcare professional; you may have diabetes which needs to be assessed and treated.