Peripheral neuropathy can be a life-altering condition. Many times, peripheral neuropathy is seen in the feet, but can also affect the hands. Because I am a foot doctor, we will talk about peripheral neuropathy in the feet, also known as foot neuropathy. There are many causes of foot neuropathy, including diabetes, a history of back injury, chemotherapy treatments, alcoholism, exposure to heavy metals, and more.
Foot neuropathy once it becomes severe can change your feet and legs so much, if foot neuropathy isn't addressed and managed correctly, it can lead to disability. Here are 9 foot neuropathy symptoms to look out for
1. Numbness, tingling, or burning in the foot
If you are constantly dealing with numbness, tingling, or burning in a foot or both feet, this is a foot neuropathy symptom. These sensations are usually experienced throughout the day but oftentimes will get much worse at night. Numbness, tingling, or burning in your foot is not normal by any means. If you have been dealing with this, please seek out the care of a foot doctor in your area.
2. Other strange sensations in or around your foot
For many of my patients that have neuropathy, if they don't have the numbness, tingling, or burning symptoms that are classic neuropathy, they will describe other sensations that are still unfortunately in line with foot neuropathy. These include:
Feeling like you're wearing socks constantly, even though you know you're barefoot
Feeling like you're walking on sand
Sharp, almost lighting-like pain starting in your feet and going up your leg
Feeling like there's cotton, or thread wrapped around your toes, or under your toes
3. Chronic pain in the foot
Another common foot neuropathy symptom is chronic pain. This pain is constant and life-altering. Chronic pain can make it difficult to near impossible to live your day-to-day life. The chronic pain seen in foot neuropathy also makes your feet very sensitive, especially to touch, or anything resting on your feet including socks, blankets, or even just your feet being exposed to air.
4. Muscle weakness/loss of balance in the foot or legs
Foot neuropathy not only affects sensation but also can affect how the muscles in your feet work as well. One foot neuropathy symptom is the weakening of muscles, known as atrophy. Due to neuropathy, your feet and legs aren't getting the same strength of signals to your muscles, r stop getting these signals altogether. Your body, in response to this, will not prioritize keeping your muscles healthy, and therefore atrophy happens. When muscles shrink, you lose strength and balance, and this makes it very difficult to walk or stand, let alone run, or do any kind of demanding athletic activity. Foot neuropathy, if allowed to become severe enough can lead to someone needing a walker to get around, or leave them wheelchair-bound.
5. New hammertoes, bunions, or other foot deformities
Causes of bunions, hammertoes, and other foot deformities can be caused by muscle imbalances in your feet or legs. As we talked about above, one-foot neuropathy symptom is the weakening of the muscles, this not only makes it harder to stand and walk but will also cause changes to the shape of your foot including bunions, hammertoes, a high arch known as a cavus foot type or a flat foot or pes cavus foot type.
6. Calluses on your foot
Because of the changes seen to the shape of your foot and your toes, the foot now is taking on more pressure in new areas that a healthy foot was not designed to take on in this way. This causes your body to create a callus. A callus is dead, hard skin, that your body creates in a way to provide more cushion or protection to an area that is getting more pressure than it should.
7. Foot ulcers
Calluses can cause a big problem for people with neuropathy but also diabetes and poor blood flow because if these calluses are left in place too long, healthy skin below the ulcer opens up and causes a special kind of sore on your foot called an ulcer. A foot ulcer is very difficult to heal and can become infected, which can lead to hospitalization and amputation. A foot ulcer is probably one of the most devastating foot neuropathy symptoms.
8. Sensitivity to temperature
Another foot neuropathy symptom is that the feet will feel extremely cold or hot, without the room or the rest of their body feeling the same. This can be frustrating for someone with neuropathy because they know that their feet shouldn't feel this way, but they do regardless. Many times people with neuropathy will layer socks to feel warmer, or they will place their feet near a heat source. This can be dangerous because if you can't feel pain due to foot neuropathy, you won't know when to remove your feet because they're getting too hot from a radiator, space heater, or electric blanket. This can lead to severe burns, hospitalization, and amputation. This is very tragic, and I have seen this happen to several of my neuropathy patients in colder environments. If you have neuropathy, never place your feet next to a source of heat.
9. Extremely dry skin on your foot
The final foot neuropathy symptom is having extremely dry skin on your feet. Neuropathy does affect your sweat and oil glands to your feet making your skin extremely dry and dehydrated. The skin of someone with foot neuropathy can get so dry, that it cracks open, leading to something called an issue. Fissures can lead or drain, they can also become infected as well.
Foot neuropathy and the changes that can take place in your feet because of it can be devastating. It is so important, that if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, to seek help right away. With the right care in place, neuropathy can be managed, and the progression of the more devastating effects of neuropathy can be stopped.
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Looking for a foot doctor in Phoenix, AZ? My name is Dr. Tarr, I am a board-certified foot doctor, and also the owner of Direct Podiatry Arizona in Tempe, AZ. To view available appointment times, click here.