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The Link Between Diabetes and Heel Pain

Doctors estimate that 30 million people in the United States live with diabetes, a condition in which individuals struggle to regulate blood sugar levels.

Of those 30 million, one in four will experience foot problems ranging from neuropathy to reduced circulation. Many will also develop heel pain from heel spurs or plantar fasciitis.

Understanding the link between diabetes, heel pain, and other food conditions related to diabetes can help individuals mitigate and prevent damage to the feet, stay active, and minimize pain and complications.

Could Diabetes Be the Cause of Your Heel Pain?

While the link between diabetes and heel pain isn’t fully understood, numerous studies have established a connection between the two conditions. Foot experts at the Foot and Ankle Specialty Center in Philadelphia state, “Studies have repeatedly shown that diabetics are more prone to developing plantar fasciitis.”

Many experts speculate that the link between heel pain and diabetes is correlated with weight. Almost 90% of individuals with diabetes are also overweight, a known risk factor for heel pain and plantar fasciitis. Under ideal circumstances, the plantar fascia, a flexible ligament also known as the foot’s arch, allows the foot to absorb and distribute the impact from walking, jumping, and running. However, excess weight adds additional strain to the fascia, which can result in strain, tears, inflammation, and the development of painful calcium deposits known as heel spurs.

Treating Plantar Fasciitis with Type 2 Diabetes

While most cases of plantar fasciitis and heel pain can be successfully resolved at home using proven conservative treatment methods, there are a few special considerations you should keep in mind while treating heel pain alongside diabetes.

Orthotic Inserts

Many foot problems related to diabetes, including heel pain and plantar fasciitis, can be significantly improved by using cushioning shoe inserts that support and realign the plantar fascia ligament, and help absorb impact from daily activity. However, with or without orthotics, it’s important for diabetic patients to check their feet twice daily for new injuries or damage.

Weight Loss

Losing weight can significantly relieve strain on the plantar fascia ligament and reduce heel pain from plantar fasciitis. Make sure you consult with your doctor about new exercise routines or diet, to ensure that you stay as healthy as possible and minimize complications from diabetes while you work toward your goals for weight loss.

Rest and Icing

Rest and icing are two easy, effective methods for treating plantar fasciitis at home. Both can reduce inflammation and allow the plantar fascia to heal small tears. However, when icing the feet, keep circulatory issues and neuropathy in mind. Never place an ice pack on a sore or open wound, and take special care not to leave the ice packs on one spot too long, which can cause skin irritation. Keep a layer of fabric between your skin and the cold, and set a timer to make sure you don’t leave the ice pack in any one spot on the foot for more than 10 minutes.

Stretching

Not only can stretching help control blood glucose levels–it can significantly improve heel pain and plantar fasciitis by improving flexibility, circulation, and strength in the plantar fascia and surrounding muscles and ligaments. Take special care to follow the positioning and instructions for each stretch, to avoid injury, and consider counting out loud or setting a timer for each stretch, to avoid holding any one position for too long.

Heel Pain and Other Diabetic Foot Problems

Foot problems are one of the most common symptoms that individuals with diabetes experience. In addition to sore heels, plantar fasciitis, and heel spurs, it’s important to keep an eye out for these common diabetic foot problems:

Neuropathy

Neuropathy involves damage to the nerves, which may cause numbness or prevent you from feeling pain in the feet and heels. This creates problems because it becomes harder to feel injuries such as scrapes, cuts, blisters, and sores. It is important for diabetic patients to thoroughly check their feet twice a day to make sure they have not sustained any injuries that need attention. Neuropathy can also make it hard to tell when shoes fit improperly, so it is important to find supportive, well-fitting shoes with fascia support.

Poor Circulation

In many cases, diabetes can lead to peripheral vascular disease, which can inhibits blood circulation in a diabetic sufferer. Poor circulation is particularly bad in the lower half of the body, mainly affecting the lower legs and feet. Poor circulation adds to diabetic foot problems, and can cause the feet to swell or become dry. This can lead to further injuries including heel pain. Compression socks are a great option to help reduce diabetic problems relating to circulation.

Foot Ulcers

Ulcers of the foot are typically caused by rubbing from poorly fitting footwear or small cuts, blisters, or wounds that go unnoticed and become infected. Over time, the ulcer becomes a deep sore. Inspecting the feet daily and addressing small wounds and cuts early is important to avoiding ulcers, which can cause additional complications if left untreated. Make sure your shoes fit properly, and ease into orthotics inserts by gradually increasing the time you spend wearing them.

Protecting Your Diabetic Feet

In addition to inspecting your feet twice daily for injuries and staying vigilant for signs of neuropathy, reduced circulation, and foot ulcers, it’s equally important to consider the health of your arches and guard against plantar fasciitis.

Protect your diabetic feet and arches by wearing properly fitting, supportive footwear, orthotic inserts, working to maintain a healthy weight, and by stretching and adequately resting your feet. Living with diabetes isn’t easy. But by taking a few important steps to protect the health of your feet, you can stay active and avoid many additional complications of this condition.

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Originally published August 13, 2015. Updated on November 13, 2017.

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