NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – People with long-standing diabetes are prone to impaired ankle function, even in the absence of diabetes-related nerve damage, or “peripheral neuropathy,” new research indicates.

Diabetic peripheral neuropathy — a progressive deterioration of nerve function in the extremities linked to diabetes — can trigger chronic pain, numbness, weakness, and tingling sensations in the feet.

Prior research has suggested that this type of nerve damage is needed for altered foot-ankle biomechanics in diabetics, but definitive conclusions could not be reached for a variety of reasons, Dr. Claudia Giacomozzi, from Istituto Superiore di Sanita in Rome, and colleagues note in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders.

Giacomozzi’s team evaluated muscle performance and ankle mobility in 46 diabetics with and without nerve damage and in 21 control subjects under controlled conditions.

Compared to controls, ankle mobility and flexing ability was impaired in all of the diabetic patients, regardless of the presence or absence of nerve damage, they report.

Further studies, Giacomozzi and colleagues say, are needed to better understand the mechanisms responsible for the altered foot-ankle biomechanics in diabetics.

The current findings, they add, may help in the design of programs aimed at preventing foot and ankle problems in people with long-standing diabetes.

SOURCE: BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, online July 4, 2008.