Foot and ankle sensory neuropathy may result from a variety of pathologic conditions, especially diabetes mellitus. Decreased sensation, particularly on the plantar surface of the feet, leads to obvious risks of cutaneous injury. Less obvious are the risks of fall-related injury associated with changes in other sensory systems of the foot and ankle, such as the receptors involved in joint movement and position perception. The results of a number of studies demonstrate that the neuropathic process affects these receptors in individuals with diabetes mellitus. Associated with the decreased sensory function of the foot and ankle is decreased performance on tests of static and dynamic postural stability. Subjective feelings of instability and an increased incidence of fall-related injuries have also been reported. The reduced postural stability in persons with diabetic neuropathy cannot be attributed exclusively to loss of plantar cutaneous sensation; it appears to be the result of a general loss of peripheral sensory receptor function in the lower legs, including that of the muscle spindles. During the evaluation of an individual with foot and ankle sensory neuropathy, the possibility of balance deficits should be given proper attention. Assessment of balance deficits could be particularly important when planning the course of rehabilitation for individuals with foot and ankle neuropathy who use modified footwear or have an amputation of a section of the foot or lower extremity.
J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 1999;29(12):718-726.
Key Words: balance, diabetic neuropathy, muscle spindles, plantar cutaneous sensation