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Peripheral Neuropathy

Diabetes Foot Pain Explained

The clinical name for diabetes foot pain is peripheral neuropathy, a condition where the small nerves fibers in the feet have become damaged by the effects of diabetes. Peripheral nerves are supposed to transmit information back to the brain, for example when your feet are hot or cold or you just stepped on a sharp object. People may not realize they have been cut or that a cut is becoming infected. Each peripheral nerve has a specific function and a unique job. Damage to the peripheral nervous system interferes with these important signals.  Similar to static from a weak radio station, peripheral neuropathy interrupts and distorts the signals to the brain.

Diabetes is the leading cause of peripheral neuropathy in the United States. About 75% of people with diabetes have some degree of nervous system damage.

Symptoms of Diabetes Foot Pain

People experience a variety of different symptoms associated with diabetes foot pain ranging from:

  • numbness (often temporary)
  • tingling, pins and needles
  • pricking sensations
  • sensitivity to touch
  • stabbing pain
  • muscle weakness
  • burning pain
  • muscle wasting
  • paralysis

Diabetes Foot pain is often worse at night, disrupting sleep and adding to an already emotional burden.

Dangers of Diabetes Foot Pain

People with diabetes are more susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections due to physical and nutritional changes that take place within their body. Fungal infections in the feet regularly manifest as athlete’s foot, fungal toenails and ingrown toenails.

Additionally, a minor injury such as a cut or blister that goes untreated can quickly escalate into an infection or ulcer as nerve damage reduces sensation. These too often result in amputations. Diabetes is the leading cause of foot or leg amputation in the United States. But circulation problems, neuropathy and ulcers which lead to amputations, can frequently be avoided.

Cause of Diabetes Foot Pain

Poor circulation and constricted blood vessels lead to reduced oxygen supply to the individual cells that make up the peripheral nerve fibers and a reduced oxygen supply quickly leads to serious damage to or even death of the nerve fibers. The cells are not getting enough oxygen. Diabetes frequently leads to blood vessel constriction causing reduced circulation.


Always strive to eat a healthy diet low in saturated fat, rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Maintain good blood sugar control. Include daily exercise such as walking. Try to reduce stress with relaxation techniques or meditation, and limit any alcohol intake to a very low level. Quitting smoking is particularly important because smoking constricts the blood vessels that supply nutrients to the peripheral nerves.


The first step is to get the blood glucose level under control. The underlying condition must be treated first, then begin treating the symptoms. Peripheral nerve damage can be reversed, as long as the nerve cells have not been killed. Do not ignore the body talking to you.

In general, developing healthy eating habits, maintaining optimal weight, avoiding exposure to environmental toxins, eating a balanced and varied diet, limiting alcohol consumption, and quitting smoking can reduce the effects of peripheral neuropathy.

Active forms of exercise will reduce cramps, improve muscle strength, improve circulation and prevent muscle wasting. Yoga is a great choice for exercise needs.

Prompt attention to any injury can help minimize permanent damage. Self-care skills such as foot massage, meticulous foot care and careful wound treatment will greatly improve the quality of life. These techniques create conditions that encourage increased blood flow and the desired nerve regeneration.


Loss of pain sensation is an especially serious problem for people with diabetes, contributing to the high rate of foot and lower leg amputations. Massaging your feet or using a foot roller often takes the edge off the pain. Massage for diabetes foot pain is safe and powerful when done correctly and highly recommended.

Stress Can Lead to Diabetes Foot Pain

Stress is when something causes us to feel as though we are under some sort of attack. Everyone knows there are many sources of stress. Sometimes it’s a physical stress like an illness or injury. It could be emotional, such as relationship troubles, problems with your boss or job, your business is having difficulty, your health or that of a loved one, and the ultimate stress, finances.

When we feel stressed, the body goes into defensive mode. This is commonly called the fight or flight response. In the fight or flight response mode, the body releases hormones into the blood stream from various sources throughout the body. Their role is to increase energy (glucose) into the body’s cells. The cells are being charged to energize the body and help in the fight or flight response to the perceived threat. For those with diabetes this causes a problem.

People with diabetes are not able to properly handle this extra charge of energy.  Their bodies don’t respond to the surge of energy (glucose and hormones) as they should. Blood glucose levels become too high for too long a period of time. Insulin is unable to allow the extra energy into the cells, so the increased glucose remains circulating through the blood. This is a source of diabetes foot pain.

Many stress triggers pass quickly and are managed easily but sometimes stress lasts a long time. For example, it can take months to heal from a surgery. In response the body will continue to release stress hormones for a long time which results long term high blood glucose levels.

Many times we are our own worst enemy by allowing the mind to stress over some mental or perceived danger. The mind can react to a non-threatening event as if it were a real threat. Like physical stress, mental stress can be short term as when taking a test or getting stuck in a traffic jam, or it can be long term, as when working for a demanding boss or having to meet a deadline. Other examples could be taking care of a sick parent or worrying about money.

Whatever the source, mental stress or physical stress, the body still pumps out hormones.  It makes no difference however to the fight or flight response, when the enemy or perceived danger is your own mind.

This relationship between diabetes foot pain and stress is evident. Diabetes causes many problems throughout the body. Our ability to control stress in our lives, especially mental stress, can help reduce diabetes foot pain in addition to other diabetes symptoms.

Massage and Diabetes Foot Pain

Massage is among the fastest growing alternative medical treatments being used for diabetic foot pain in the United States today and current research and massage techniques are approved by medical professionals. Massage can increase circulation and stimulate tissues, both healthful benefits. Best of all you, a friend or partner can provide a foot-massage just as good as a professional massage therapist.

Massage has been medically recommended for diabetes foot pain for nearly 100 years.  Diabetes affects the blood vessels of the legs and feet. The small blood vessels just under the skin become narrow and do not dilate normally. A local treatment such as a hot foot bath leads to increased metabolism in the warmed tissues, which then requires more oxygen and nutrients. Because the blood vessels in the feet do not function well and the circulation is impaired, they cannot supply enough oxygen and other nutrients to the cells and this situation can lead to nerve damage and even tissue death. Massage can increase circulation through the small blood vessels helping to improve the condition.

Once you get in the habit of massaging your feet every day, you realize how much it is helping and you begin to see a difference in the color, appearance and feeling in your feet. Discovering these benefits, you soon realize the value of daily foot massage and you won’t want to stop. You can literally take your health into your own hands.

Studies demonstrate that massage can have a positive effect on blood glucose levels and symptoms of diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage). Massage relieves pain in the feet and legs, including pain from neuropathy. Massage helps prevent neuropathy by keeping the tissue around the nerves healthy. Research has shown that massage can make a crucial difference for people with diabetes foot pain.

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