Peripheral neuropathy is a common ailment that is the result of peripheral nerve damage due to disease, trauma, or exposure to toxins. Diabetes is also a common cause of neuropathy, with 50% of diabetics reporting some form of neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is most commonly felt in the ends of your fingers and toes initially, and as the disease progresses symptoms will spread up into the hands and feet.
The nervous system is split into central and peripheral portions. The brain and spinal cord comprise the central nervous system. The peripheral nervous system refers to the nerves that run out from the spinal cord to the rest of your body. Peripheral neuropathy refers to the damage to this distal peripheral system in your hands and feet, however, neuropathic damage can occur throughout the body.
What does neuropathy feel like?
Neuropathy can present with a wide variety of symptoms, but most commonly includes:
- Numbness or tingling in hands/feet
- Burning sensation
- Stabbing pain
- Hypersensitivity in affected regions
These symptoms can be mild or intense, and can severely limit your ability to perform day to day activities.
Neuropathy can also have secondary effects due to nerve damage, such as loss of balance and weakness in affected areas. With hypersensitivity it can become painful or uncomfortable to wear shoes or socks. Many patients report difficulty sleeping due to the sensation of sheets touching their feet being uncomfortable.
Due to numbness in affected areas, small wounds can go unnoticed, and are easily infected. Coupled with diabetes, these wounds can easily become infected, and are responsible for 85% of lower extremity amputations due to diabetes and 45% of amputations due to neuropathy.
With daily foot inspections these wounds can easily be treated before becoming problematic.
Treatment of neuropathy
Early management is vital to treating neuropathy. Nerves only have a certain ability to regenerate, and so early treatment will maximize your potential for recovery. If left untreated for too long, the nerve damage may be permanent, at which case treatment is focused instead on symptom management.
The overall goal of neuropathy treatment is to generate new blood vessels in the affected areas, known as angiogenesis. By providing increased blood flow to affected areas, the tissues and nerve endings are able to regenerate. The extent of symptom relief from regeneration depends on a variety of factors, and some residual symptoms once treatment is complete is not uncommon. Symptoms usually improve to a level that is manageable, and does not have as an adverse effect on daily living.
Treatment for neuropathy involves managing underlying health conditions that caused the nerve damage to begin with. Lifestyle changes that improve neuropathy symptoms includes:
- Cessation of smoking
- Reduce alcohol consumption
At Cactus Medical Center our neuropathy program involves dietary counseling and supplements, infrared light therapy, and Sanexas electrotherapy. Exercises will also be issued to perform at home to further facilitate nerve regeneration, regain strength, and restore balance.
WIth treatment and healthy life changes neuropathy symptoms can improve, or become more manageable, and allow you to return to your previous lifestyle with less pain and limitations.