Peripheral Neuropathy is a disorder that can disrupt the proper functioning of the system of nerves that extend throughout the body causing pain, numbness, or tingling in the extremities.
The Peripheral Nervous System (PNS), which connects the spinal cord and brain, notifies the body of physical sensations. This particular cluster of nerves serves the feet, legs, arms, and hands.
The PNS is also responsible for sending the brain signals from other parts of the body, such as internal organs, the face, and mouth.
The symptoms of neuropathy can range from annoying to painful, and generally lessen a person’s quality life. Anyone can develop this condition, though those with a family history of the condition are generally at a greater risk.
Being able to recognize the symptoms, identify the causes, and seek appropriate neuropathy treatment will improve a person’s chances of healing or avoiding the condition altogether.
What is Peripheral Neuropathy?
Neuropathy often occurs when peripheral nerves are damaged, destroyed, or are malfunctioning. Nerves may improperly send pain signals to the brain when there’s no actual reason for a person to be experiencing pain.
In other scenarios, damaged or malfunctioning peripheral nerves can fail to send pain signals when there’s actually a legitimate injury or other issue. This instance can be dangerous because a person is then unaware that they may need medical attention.
Peripheral neuropathies are categorized as Mononeuropathy or Polyneuropathy according to the type of nerve damage.
Mononeuropathy simply means that a single nerve is damaged or malfunctioning.
Polyneuropathy, which is more common, develops when several nerves are involved in the condition.
What Causes Peripheral Neuropathy?
There are a variety of issues that can lead to neuropathy, including injury, chronic illness, infection, and an inherited predisposition to the condition.
Some of common causes of peripheral neuropathy include:
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Chemotherapy or radiation therapy
- Traumatic injury
- Excessive or long-term alcohol consumption
- Poor circulation from smoking
- Autoimmune disease
- Viral infections
One of the most common forms of neuropathy is diabetic neuropathy. High blood pressure, being overweight, and having high blood sugar levels in the body from diabetes can lead to nerve damage and neuropathy.
Kidney disease can be a root cause of neuropathy, if the kidney is unable to effectively cleanse the body of toxins, it can lead to nerve damage.
Hypothyroidism is yet another chronic illness that can lead to fluid retention and chronic pressure on peripheral nerves.
Certain vitamin deficiencies may cause peripheral neuropathy, as well as diseases that contribute to internal inflammation, which then can spread to the nerves.
Autoimmune illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus can cause damage nerves, in addition to bacterial infections, such as Lyme disease that are known to be a root factor for developing neuropathy.
Alcoholic neuropathy is often a negative health consequence for severe alcoholics or long-term, heavy drinkers. The toxins in alcohol, combined with vitamin deficiencies from heavy drinking can cause damage to nerve tissue over time.
Physical trauma is an extremely common cause of neuropathy. Car accidents, falls, fractures, overuse injuries, or repetitive movements can put a strain on peripheral nerves and either damage them in an instant or wear them away over time.
Peripheral Neuropathy Symptoms
To better understand peripheral neuropathy symptoms, it’s necessary to recognize the various types of nerves involved with the condition.
There are three main types of peripheral nerves:
- Autonomic nerves that connect to internal organs
- Motor nerves that connect to muscles
- Sensory nerves connected to the skin
While this disorder may affect just one of the three nerve types, it may also create problems in all three nerve systems.
Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can include:
- Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
- Sharp, stabbing pains in the extremities
- Sensation of wearing gloves or socks that are too small and tight
- Feeling weak or heavy in the legs or arms
- Skin that grows thin
- Repeatedly dropping things due to a lack of sensation in the hands
- Constipation, digestive difficulty, or diarrhea
- Excessive sweating at night or while eating
- Not sweating when needed to control body temperature
- Sexual dysfunction, particularly in men
Recognizing the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy and seeking medical attention is the first step to getting the appropriate treatment.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Peripheral Neuropathy
Diagnosing the underlying causes of the condition is first required for proper peripheral neuropathy treatment.
In other words, if diabetes is causing the condition, learning to effectively manage the diabetes symptoms will in turn, often lessen or eliminate neuropathy symptoms.
Diagnosing Peripheral Neuropathy
A doctor will begin by examining a patient’s symptoms and medical history. This will include blood tests for diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, or immune system irregularities.
A neurological exam can identify reflex or coordination problems, and nerve function tests can detect and measure electrical activity in the muscles and nerves, touch sensations, and sweat functioning.
Some form of imaging test might be required to rule out injuries, as well as a nerve or skin biopsy to determine if any anomalies are present.
Common Peripheral Neuropathy Treatment Methods
Sometimes, a combination of therapies works best and helps people get back to normal daily activities, such as the some of the following:
1. Non-Prescription Pain Medications
Over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) are useful for managing moderate pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can help to decrease swelling and inflammation. These medications should not be used for extended periods, especially without consulting a physician.
2. Prescription Medications
Some prescription medications, ranging from certain types of antidepressants, anticonvulsants, anti-epileptics and even appropriate narcotics can help treat peripheral neuropathy symptoms. Drugs for sexual dysfunction may also be prescribed to alleviate those issues.
Gabapentin (Neurontin) is an anti-seizure medication that is also used off-label for conditions like restless leg syndrome or nerve pain.
3. EPAT Therapy for Neuropathy
EPAT Therapy for neuropathy has shown to be very effective for speeding up the healing process and reducing pain more quickly than other methods. It is also commonly known as Shockwave Therapy.
Unlike surgery or other forms of treatment, this approach is non-invasive and targets acoustic pressure waves into the injured tissue and nerve area to improve blood circulation and stimulate the body’s own metabolic processes to accelerate healing.
EPAT stands for Extracorporeal Pulse Activation Technology, and it is an excellent way to treat diabetic and peripheral neuropathy without the side effects of medication and patients do not require any downtime between treatment sessions.
For neuropathy in the feet, a trained technician will use an EPAT or Shockwave Therapy Machine to treat the bottom of the foot (Plantar area) first, and then move up to the peripheral nerve path to encourage blood flow to the lower extremity.
In most cases, 3 to 5 separate EPAT treatment sessions performed one week apart is recommended for a favorable outcome.
4. Cast or Splint
A Cast or Splint that stabilizes the wrists, knees, ankles, or peripheral limbs like the hands and feet may help reduce neuropathic pain. Splinting nerve injuries can offer protection while the nerve heals and a cast can prevent nerves from becoming further damaged.
5. Plasmapheresis or Plasma Exchange
Plasmapheresis, or plasma exchange, involves a blood transfusion that can potentially remove toxic antibodies from the bloodstream that may be the cause of some types of neuropathy. The plasma is removed and separated from blood cells and replaced with another solution and returned to the patient.
Unfortunately this is time consuming and it isn’t 100 percent effective for everyone.
6. Nerve Block
A nerve block is a procedure used by a physician to inject an anesthetic directly into the nerve or problem area nearby to stop or block the pain caused by neuropathy or other conditions. This provides short-term relief.
Sometimes a nerve block is used to purposely damage the affected nerve and this procedure offers longer-lasting relief.
7. Lifestyle Changes
Leading a healthy lifestyle by avoiding tobacco and alcohol, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet can go a long way to aid in avoiding or reducing peripheral neuropathy symptoms. Quitting smoking and exercising regularly can help with circulation and blood flow.
Alcoholic neuropathy can be avoided or improved by not drinking alcohol. Eating a healthier diet and taking vitamins has been known to reverse some forms of peripheral neuropathy, and diabetic neuropathy can be remedied in a similar fashion.
8. Topical Treatments
There are number of topical treatments that have shown to help relieve neuropathy pain symptoms. Lidocaine patches can provide direct pain relief, whereas essential oils and other creams can help with circulation or pain.
Capsaicin from hot peppers has been known to decrease peripheral neuropathy pain symptoms for some patients, although the burning sensation may be too much to handle for sensitive people and should never be used near open wounds.
Surgery is sometimes required to repair nerve damage caused by trauma due to an injury and this will relieve pressure that causes pain.
Nerve decompression surgery is sometimes used for diabetic peripheral neuropathy, and carpal tunnel surgery can reverse nerve entrapment.
Anyone who experiences prolonged numbness or tingling in the hands, feet, or extremities should speak with a doctor about the possibility of developing peripheral neuropathy. This is especially important for people with diabetes, kidney or autoimmune disease, and heavy long-term smokers and drinkers.
The treatment methods outlined above offer a wide range of approaches for improving the symptoms and healing the pain and discomfort caused by the various types of neuropathy.