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Diabetes leg pain: Everything you need to know

Diabetes develops when a person’s body does not make enough insulin to process sugars present in the blood. This can lead to many complications, including leg pain.

When people with diabetes experience leg pain, it may be the result of nerve damage. Nerve damage can occur if a person with diabetes does not receive treatment or is unable to manage their blood sugar levels.

According to the American Diabetes Association, over 30 million people are living with diabetes in the United States. Some of these do not know that they have the condition, putting them at higher risk of complications such as leg pain.

In this article, we discuss diabetes leg pain in detail, as well as how to prevent it and what the treatment options are. We also cover home remedies.


Why does diabetes cause leg pain?

A person holding their leg in pain due to diabetes leg pain
Diabetic neuropathy is common in the arms and legs.

People living with diabetes may experience several complications, especially if their blood sugar levels are not under control. A common complication of diabetes is diabetic neuropathy.

Diabetic neuropathy refers to nerve damage. Diabetic neuropathy can occur in different parts of the body but is most common in the legs and arms.

When nerve damage occurs in these outer limbs, doctors call it diabetic peripheral neuropathy.

When diabetic peripheral neuropathy affects the legs, it means that the nerves there are no longer functioning properly. As well as pain, a person may feel numbness and tingling.

People who experience diabetic peripheral neuropathy have a higher risk of developing serious complications in their feet or legs, including injuries or amputation.

Once diabetic neuropathy occurs, treatment tends to focus on reducing the pain and cramping symptoms. Treatments may also help slow the progression of the condition.


Treatments

The best treatment for diabetic neuropathy is prevention. People with diabetes can reduce their risk of developing diabetic peripheral neuropathy through effective management of their blood sugar levels.

Even if they develop diabetic peripheral neuropathy, a person should aim to control their blood sugar levels as best they can.

The primary focus of treating diabetic peripheral neuropathy is pain management. In mild cases, a person may be able to take over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

In moderate to severe cases, a healthcare provider may prescribe medication to treat the pain. These medications may include duloxetine (Cymbalta) or pregabalin (Lyrica).

In some cases, a doctor may prescribe opioid medications, such as tapentadol or tramadol.

Home remedies

Although medical treatments can help alleviate pain, there are several measures a person can take at home to help alleviate or reduce the effects of diabetic peripheral neuropathy.

The following are some of the best options for relieving leg pain at home.

Exercise

people jogging
A person with diabetic peripheral neuropathy should try to increase their physical activity.

Getting regular, moderate exercise has a range of health benefits, such as improved blood flow. Improved blood flow helps bring oxygen and nutrients to the legs.

People with diabetic peripheral neuropathy may experience a reduction in their symptoms if they increase their level of physical activity.

However, anyone with a serious health condition, such as diabetes, should speak to their doctor before starting a new exercise regimen.

Diet

Eating a balanced diet can help people with diabetes manage nerve pain. By eating the right foods to help control blood sugar levels, people can prevent worsening damage and help reduce underlying inflammation.

Focus on healthful options that will help keep blood sugar levels steady. Beneficial foods include:

  • lean proteins
  • good fats, such as those from olive oil, nuts, or fish
  • non-starchy vegetables
  • fruits, in moderation
  • complex carbohydrates, such as oatmeal or whole-grain pastas and breads

Supplements

People do not always get all the nutrients they need from their diet alone. In some cases, supplementing nutrient intake can help fill nutritional gaps.

Vitamins and supplements that may help with diabetic neuropathy include:

  • vitamin D
  • vitamin B-12
  • acetyl-L-carnitine
  • alpha-lipoic acid

Before starting to take any supplements, people should speak to their doctor about their specific nutritional needs.

It is possible that they are getting enough nutrients from the foods they eat. It is also possible that certain supplements may interact with the medications a person is taking.

Stop smoking

Quitting smoking, or never starting, can have a positive effect on a person’s overall health.

People with diabetic peripheral neuropathy may find that their symptoms improve if they do not smoke. This is because smoking impairs circulation.

Other options

In addition to making lifestyle changes, a person may want to consider other potential home or non-medicinal therapies. Some other strategies that may help alleviate the pain include:

  • trying physical therapy
  • trying acupuncture
  • using a leg cradle at night
  • massaging the lower legs
  • soaking the feet in warm water (if there are no open wounds)


Additional symptoms

In addition to leg pain, a person may also experience symptoms such as:

  • tingling in the feet or lower legs
  • a burning sensation
  • feet that get very cold or very hot
  • overly sensitive feet
  • loss of sensation in the lower legs and feet
  • weakened muscle tone in the legs and feet
  • no pain, even when blisters or sores are present
  • open sores or ulcers on the feet
  • altered bone structure in the feet

Prevention

sweet potato kale and quinoa salad with dark leafy greens and vitamin a for skin
A person should eat a balanced diet to keep their blood sugar levels in check.

It is not always possible to prevent diabetic peripheral neuropathy. However, people can greatly reduce their risk of developing it by properly controlling their blood sugar levels.

Some steps a person can take to help keep their blood sugar levels in check are:

  • eating a balanced diet
  • speaking to a nutritionist about healthful meal plans
  • exercising regularly
  • monitoring blood sugar levels throughout the day
  • taking doctor-recommended medications
  • following all treatment plan steps discussed with a doctor


Outlook

The most important thing a person can do to prevent or reduce the impact of diabetic peripheral neuropathy is to manage their blood sugar levels as best they can.

Good blood sugar management can help prevent leg pain and reduce the risk of experiencing additional complications. People can most often manage the pain by taking medications and making lifestyle changes.

Anyone with diabetes who is experiencing leg pain, tingling, or numbness for the first time should speak to a doctor as soon as possible.

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