Recent survey evidence suggests that sensory ataxia due to diabetic neuropathy may be a more frequent and serious problem than is commonly recognized. This view is further supported by research that confirms the major contribution of the somatosensory system to the control of posture. We therefore sought to determine the effects of significant diabetic distal symmetrical polyneuropathy on the control of posture.
Fifty-one subjects, divided into three groups, participated in this study. Seventeen had diabetes and significant sensory neuropathy, 17 had diabetes and no neuropathy, and 17 had neither diabetes nor neuropathy. The subjects were matched across groups, and stringent exclusion criteria were applied. Postural stability during quiet standing was measured using a force platform. In addition to electrophysiological and quantitative sensory tests of neuropathy, a number of physical and functional characteristics were measured for all subjects.
Postural instability was found to be significantly associated with sensory neuropathy, but not with diabetes per se. Patients with sensory neuropathy demonstrated between 66 and 117% more instability than did control subjects (depending on the testing condition). Based on multiple linear regression analyses, the most significant correlates of instability were the quantitative sensory measures of neuropathy and age.
The loss of sensory perception secondary to diabetic distal symmetrical sensory neuropathy has a markedly detrimental effect on postural stability. The deficit is greatest when visual or vestibular cues are absent or degraded. Patients with neuropathy need to be informed of the postural consequences of this condition to limit the potential morbidity caused by falls.