Sometimes foot pain can indicate the presence of disease that has nothing to do with the foot itself. This is often the case when feet are numb or asleep, burn, or tingle with a pins and needles sensation. These symptoms usually indicate nerve disease (not circulation as many people often assume). There are several conditions in the foot itself that can cause these symptoms in very specific areas. These include pinched nerves that create symptoms only where the nerve travels to, such as the ball of the foot, a couple toes, the side of the heel etc. When large parts of the foot have these symptoms, or when the legs are involved, the foot is much less likely the source of the symptoms. Many times, a pinched nerve in the leg or back is the root cause of this more extensive set of symptoms. However, it is not uncommon for these symptoms to have nothing to do pressure on an actual nerve, whether in the foot, leg or the back. In this instance, the symptoms are from a different kind of disease that affects the nerve and causes pain to be felt where no pain should exist. This condition is called peripheral neuropathy.
Peripheral neuropathy can be caused by numerous conditions, and can also simply appear for no known reason. However, in our country diabetes is often at fault. Diabetes is a condition in which the blood sugar that normally is absorbed by the body after eating carbohydrates (sweets, starches, some vegetables) continues to accumulate in the blood due to a defect in how the body passes it into cells. Eventually, this excess sugar causes damage to and dysfunction of numerous organs, the nervous system being one of them. When nerves function poorly due to diabetes, the result is usually some combination numbness, burning, or tingling of the feet and legs. Eventually the hands can also become involved. Since diabetes is difficult to detect unless blood testing is obtained, many people can go undiagnosed for quite some time unless they are seeing a doctor regularly for check-ups. It is not uncommon for foot pain or numbness to be the first signs of undiagnosed diabetes.
If one is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to see a foot specialist who can rule out causes of the symptoms in the feet and ankles, and help make the initial steps towards diagnosing diabetes if that is indeed the cause of the symptoms. Diabetes is not a condition to ignore, and treatment started sooner can make a big difference.
For more answers about diabetic foot problems, see my other blog at thediabeticfoot.blogspot.com.
Until next time,
Scott R. Kilberg DPM
Indiana Podiatry Group
Foot doctors for Indianapolis, Carmel, Noblesville, Fishers, Westfield, and Fortville Indiana.