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.