Diabetic neuropathy of the feet is a common complication of diabetes. It can cause pain or feelings of numbness and tingling in the feet. You can’t reverse it, but you can prevent it.

Diabetic neuropathy happens when high blood sugar levels damage your nerves. Neuropathy of the feet, or peripheral neuropathy, is the most common type of diabetic neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy typically starts in both feet at once. Over time, it can spread up your legs and affect your hands and arms.

Diabetic neuropathy of the feet is a long-term complication of diabetes. It’s due to high blood sugar levels damaging the blood vessels that supply blood to the nerves. It’s common for it to affect the feet first because the blood vessels that supply the nerves in the feet are the farthest from the heart.

You can’t reverse diabetic neuropathy, but seeking treatment can help you manage it.

People often describe the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy in their feet as tingling or burning. However, some people experience a loss of sensation in the feet, and as neuropathy of the feet progresses, symptoms can travel up the leg.

Symptoms of diabetic neuropathy of the feet can include:

  • a tingling or “pins and needles” feeling
  • a burning feeling
  • pain, which may be worse at night
  • extreme sensitivity to touch
  • phantom sensations in the foot or toes
  • numbness
  • very hot or very cold sensations
  • an inability to feel the feet when standing and walking
  • difficulty walking
  • an inability to feel pain in the feet
  • blisters and open sores that heal slowly
  • changes in muscle tone
  • pain, numbness, or tingling in the legs

Diabetic neuropathy of the feet can lead to multiple complications. These may include:

  • loss of feeling in the feet
  • sores and ulcers in the feet
  • severe infections of foot injuries
  • bone and tissue death
  • loss of a toe or an entire foot

Most complications result from a loss of feeling in the feet. When you can’t feel sensations, you might not notice cuts or other injuries on your feet. This can lead to those cuts getting worse and becoming infected. A severe infection can damage the bones and tissues of the toes, feet, and ankles, and this may require treatment with amputation.

Diabetic neuropathy of the feet is also linked to complications that don’t involve the feet. These include:

Types of diabetic neuropathy

There are four types of diabetic neuropathy. In addition to peripheral neuropathy, the other types of neuropathy are:

  • Focal neuropathy: Focal neuropathy is damage to a single nerve. It happens most often in the hands, legs, torso, and head.
  • Proximal neuropathy: Proximal neuropathy is a rare type of neuropathy that can lead to severe pain. It most commonly occurs in the hips and thighs.
  • Autonomic neuropathy: Autonomic neuropathy is damage to the nerves that help control important functions, such as digestion, blood pressure, and heart rate.
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Diabetic neuropathy of the feet isn’t reversible or curable. However, having a treatment plan can help you manage the condition. Keeping blood glucose levels within a healthy range can help stop neuropathy from progressing and help reduce the risk of additional complications of diabetes.

Additional treatments will focus on controlling the pain, numbness, and other symptoms of neuropathy. The exact medications you take will depend on your symptoms and their severity. For some people, antiseizure medications help relieve nerve pain. Others find options such as antidepressants to be more effective.

One of the best ways to prevent diabetic neuropathy of the feet is to manage your blood sugar levels. Keeping your blood sugar levels close to your targets as often as possible will help reduce the risk of neuropathy.

Additional ways you can reduce your risk include:

  • quitting smoking
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • limiting or avoiding alcohol
  • following a nutritious diet
  • staying physically active
  • regularly having your A1C checked
  • checking your feet daily for cuts, blisters, bruises, or irritation
  • washing and thoroughly drying your feet daily
  • keeping your feet moisturized to prevent cracking
  • wearing well-fitting shoes with clean socks
  • regularly trimming your toenails
  • having a foot exam once a year

Diabetic neuropathy of the feet is a common complication of diabetes. It happens when high blood sugar levels cause damage to the blood vessels that supply the nerves. It can cause pain, numbness, and tingling in the feet, and it can lead to serious complications.

There’s no way to reverse diabetic neuropathy of the feet, but treatment can control your symptoms and slow or stop the progression of the condition.