Diabetic Neuropathy and Balance

Anyone with diabetes has the probability of contracting neuropathy in time. Excess sugar in the blood stream causes swollen nerves which in turn cause the tingling, prickling, and numbness in feet and hands. One type of neuropathy, peripheral neuropathy, results from damage to the peripheral nervous system which controls sensory, motor, and autonomic nerves. Peripheral neuropathy also affects balance, mobility, and causes many foot disorders.


The sensory nerves in the peripheral nervous system are responsible for perceiving sensations, like pressure or pain, and sending them to the brain for the response of muscle reactions. With neuropathy, the patient’s nerve is damaged so the brain never receives the sensations and the muscles never react. Patients experience numbness and tingling in the feet that can proceed up the leg. This lack of sensation can lead to difficulties in joint position and thus problems in coordination.


Damage to the motor nerves can also be caused by neuropathy. If the motor nerves of a patient’s legs were damaged, that person would experience trouble moving the limbs, which includes paralysis and lack of muscle control. Weakness in the legs can also happen. Patients may have trouble holding themselves up, and may fall.  Of the senses that may be affected, one is the “position sense” also called “proprioception”. In other words, a patient with neuropathy has trouble determining what position a leg, foot, hand, or arm is in thereby causing the balancing issues. The patient can damage the ankle joint without realizing it, sprain the ankle, and fall as a result of no “position sense”.

Peripheral neuropathy caused by diabetes can cause balancing trouble due to a number of secondary foot problems like foot ulcerations, partial amputations, and trans-tibial amputations. These foot problems aggravate balance issues already caused by the damage to the motor and sensory nerves


Now that you know what damage can occur with neuropathy, we can make some suggestions about how you can help yourself improve balance, coordination, and other motor issues as a result from this condition. Exercise can greatly reduce the symptoms of neuropathy by strengthening weak muscles, increasing mobility in the affected parts, and improve balance. There are many exercise programs designed for neuropathy patients that will help reduce the symptoms and greatly improve mobility and balance. Check with your doctor for recommendations and always start gradually and work to increase time and endurance. Follow your doctor’s advice and exercise to help yourself gain a better quality of life from neuropathy.

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