Pain Like Needles In Feet | Causes And Treatment
Many people experience a tingling sensation that is pain like needles in feet. It is a common experience shared by most people especially those who are diagnosed with diabetes. Medically, this “pins and needles” feeling is called “paresthesia,” a sensation associated with the uncomfortable tingling, prickling, itching or skin crawling usually felt in the hands or feet.
It is sometimes coupled with a feeling of numbness or of throbbing pain.
While paresthesia is usually not a reason for concern, a persistent tingling in the hands or feet can be a sign of serious conditions such as diabetes and diabetic neuropathy, multiple sclerosis, hypothyroidism, Tarsal tunnel syndrome (TTS), kidney failure, Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease, autoimmune diseases, infections or alcohol use disorder and alcoholic neuropathy (Dix, 2021).
What is that tingling feeling? What causes the pain like “pins and needles” sensation in the hands or feet?
Pain Like Needles In Feet – The Cause
Though there are a lot of conditions that paresthesia or that sensation of “pins and needles” indicate, we will focus in this discussion, on the most common condition that this tingling feeling represent – a type of diabetic neuropathy called peripheral neuropathy. Here we will explore what it is, determine its cause and discuss doctor-recommended treatment options. So, what is peripheral neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that results from nerve damage. This type of nerve damage typically affects the feet and legs and sometimes also affects the hands and arms. It is a very common type of neuropathy. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), up to 50% of all diabetic patients experience this (Peripheral, n.d.).
In peripheral neuropathy, the damaged nerves are the peripheral nerves, those nerves that are outside the brain and the spinal cord. Since these nerves are commonly found in the hands and feet, damage to them causes weakness and pain in these areas of the body.
The damage to peripheral nerves is described by patients as stabbing, burning or tingling pain (Peripheral neuropathy, n.d.).
There are two types of peripheral neuropathy. The first type is mononeuropathy or damage to a single peripheral nerve. Its most common cause is physical injury or trauma. On the other hand, the second type of peripheral neuropathy is polyneuropathy or damage to multiple peripheral nerves throughout the body.
It is believed that the most common form of polyneuropathy is diabetic neuropathy, a condition that occurs in people with diabetes (Robinson, 2020).
Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy can result from many sources. It may come from traumatic injuries, infections, metabolic problems, inherited causes and exposure to toxins. However, one of the most common causes is diabetes.
Diabetes is a chronic or long-lasting disease that affects how the body turns food into energy.
There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. According to the centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 122 million Americans are living with diabetes (34.2 million) or prediabetes (88 million) (Diabetes, n.d.).
High blood sugar levels can lead to nerve damage called diabetic neuropathy. These damaged nerves may stop sending messages to different parts of the body as a result. This, in turn, can cause health problems ranging from mild numbness to pain which will make it hard to do normal activities.
Managing Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy
How do we treat diabetic peripheral neuropathy?
Since diabetic peripheral neuropathy is a result of high level of glucose or sugar in the blood, managing one’s blood sugar is therefore an essential part of diabetes care plan. First, it helps with the pursuit of day-to-day wellness. Most importantly, proper management of blood glucose levels can help prevent serious health problems.
How do we control our blood sugar levels?
Our body usually manages blood sugar levels by producing insulin, a hormone that allows our cells to use the circulating sugar in the blood. It follows, therefore, that insulin is the most important regulator of blood sugar levels.
However, diabetics are insulin deficient so their bodies are not producing enough insulin to turn blood glucose into a form that the cells can use. Hence, there is a need for an alternative plan to manage blood sugar levels.
The following are some of the most effective ways to manage blood sugar levels:
First, exercise regularly.
Regular exercise can help one reach and maintain a moderate weight and increase insulin sensitivity. Increased insulin sensitivity means the cells of the body can more effectively use the available sugar in the bloodstream. Moreover, exercise also helps muscles use blood sugar for energy and muscle contractions.
Second, manage carbohydrates intake.
The amount of carbohydrates in the body influences the level of glucose in the blood. The cells of the body break down carbohydrates and transform them into glucose, a form of sugar. Then, insulin helps the body use and store these sugars for energy. When one eats too many carbohydrates or have insulin-function problems, this biological process fails. As a result, blood glucose levels can exponentially rise.
Third, drink plenty of water.
Drinking enough water helps keep blood sugar levels within the healthy range of 70 to less than 140 mg/dL. In addition to preventing dehydration, it helps the kidneys flush out any excess sugar through the urine.
Finally, manage stress levels. Stress can affect the body’s blood sugar levels. When stressed, the body secretes hormones called glucagon and cortisol. These hormones cause blood sugar levels to rise.
In conclusion, the pain like needles in feet sensation that one feels in their feet is called paresthesia. When caused by damage or injury to the peripheral nerves in the body, it is called peripheral neuropathy.
The most common form of peripheral neuropathy is diabetic neuropathy, a condition caused by diabetes to the peripheral nerves in the hands and feet. To manage the effects of diabetic neuropathy, one should lower their blood sugar levels.
Blood sugars levels can be lowered through regular exercise, management of carbohydrates intake, drinking plenty of water, and managing one’s level of stress.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Diabetes basics. Accessed 25 January 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/index.html
Dix, M. (2021). What’s causing tingling in my feet? Healthline. (Updated 8 April 2021). Accessed 25 January 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/tingling-in-feet
Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Peripheral neuropathy. Accessed 25 January 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/peripheral-neuropathy/symptoms-causes
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (n.d.). Peripheral neuropathy. Accessed 25 January 2022. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/nerve-damage-diabetic-neuropathies/peripheral-neuropathy
Robinson, J. (June 21, 2020). Understanding peripheral neuropathy — the basics. Web MD. Accessed 25 January 2022. https://www.webmd.com/brain/understanding-peripheral-neuropathy-basics