Diabetic neuropathy can cause pain or tingling in your legs, arms, hands, and feet. Topical and oral medications may provide some relief.

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Diabetic neuropathy in your legs is a complication of diabetes that develops when high levels of blood sugar (glucose) injure the nerves in your limbs and, specifically, harm the tiny blood vessels within the nerves. Over time, this can lead to nerve pain, tingling, or numbness.

Diabetic neuropathy that affects your legs can significantly affect your quality of life. There are medications that may help ease symptoms. Managing your blood sugar levels may also help prevent this condition or reduce your discomfort.

Learn more about diabetic neuropathy.

There are different types of diabetic neuropathy. Two of them — peripheral neuropathy and proximal neuropathy – are most likely to affect your legs.

Peripheral neuropathy usually develops first in the feet and then in the legs. The hands and arms may also be affected. Leg symptoms may include:

Proximal diabetic neuropathy is a rare complication, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. It usually affects only one side of your body, although both may be affected in some cases. The condition causes considerable pain in your hip, buttock, and thigh.

Effectively treating diabetic neuropathy in your legs usually requires a combination of medications and home remedies, as well as lifestyle adjustments that include strict blood sugar management.

Medications

Some medications designed to prevent seizures, including gabapentin and pregabalin, may also help relieve nerve pain.

Topical creams, ointments, patches, and sprays containing lidocaine, capsaicin, or other numbing agents may provide relief. A doctor may also prescribe an antidepressant, which can sometimes ease nerve pain.

Home remedies

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is always good advice, regardless of your diabetes status. But when trying to manage diabetic neuropathy, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can help promote healthy circulation.

Additionally, watch for any foot ulcers or changes, such as skin discoloration in your feet or legs, which could indicate further complications.

If muscle weakness is a problem or walking is especially painful, braces or orthotics may provide some stability. Getting physical therapy and learning exercises to better maintain strength and flexibility in your legs may help, too.

Having either type 1 diabetes (formerly known as juvenile diabetes because it’s typically diagnosed in children and young adults) or type 2 diabetes (diabetes mellitus or diabetes that tends to develop over time) is the primary risk factor for developing diabetic neuropathy in your legs.

But several additional factors may increase your risk. According to a 2019 report, some of the main risk factors include:

If you have diabetes, the main strategy to prevent diabetic neuropathy in your legs is aggressive and consistent blood sugar management.

Research suggests that if individuals who received an early diagnosis of type 1 diabetes can maintain strict blood sugar management, they can lower their diabetic neuropathy risk by about 78%, whereas people who receive a late diagnosis of type 2 diabetes may be able to lower their risk by 5–10% with tight blood glucose management.

Without tight blood sugar management, the outlook for someone with diabetic neuropathy in the legs is poor. Severe damage can sometimes lead to amputation of the foot or lower leg.

But for people who can manage their diabetes with a combination of medications, diet, and healthy behaviors, the outlook is much better. You may need to make adjustments in your activities, such as shorter but more frequent bouts of exercise and the use of special shoes or a cane to help with balance if muscle weakness or foot difficulties persist.

Joining a support group for people with diabetic neuropathy may also provide you with inspiration and strategies to improve your outlook.

How do you stop diabetic neuropathy from progressing?

You may be able to stop diabetic neuropathy from progressing if you’re able to keep your blood sugar levels in a safe and healthy range. It’s also important to do the same with your blood pressure and try to keep a moderate weight and active lifestyle if possible.

Is walking good for diabetic neuropathy?

Although walking can sometimes be painful or uncomfortable for people with diabetic neuropathy in the legs, a 2017 study suggests that walking and other types of physical activity can be helpful in promoting better circulation and extending other health benefits, too.

The key is to start with supervised exercise and progress slowly, paying close attention to any foot sores or other difficulties that might develop.

Can you reverse diabetic neuropathy in your legs and feet?

Nerves damaged by diabetic neuropathy can’t heal, meaning diabetic neuropathy can’t be reversed. But improvements in treatment and consistent blood sugar management may help relieve some symptoms.

Diabetic neuropathy isn’t always preventable, and it’s not always clear why some people with diabetes develop nerve disorders and others don’t.

If you have diabetes, you may be able to lower your risk of developing diabetic neuropathy or at least keep it from progressing too much if you can keep your blood glucose levels in a healthy range and adopt an overall healthy lifestyle.

Working closely with a doctor can help to manage your symptoms. You may need to try a variety of treatments in order to find the best approach for you.