What is Causing My Peripheral Neuropathy, and is it Reversible?
If you were diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, you might be familiar with the nerve irritation that accompanies this condition. Without the proper treatment, it can begin to affect your quality of life. Fortunately, many forms of peripheral neuropathy treatment options are available. Depending on the cause, it can help treat or reverse this condition for good.
Let’s go over what peripheral neuropathy is, the common causes and symptoms, and what you can do to help with this condition and its symptoms.
Facts About Peripheral Neuropathy and the Peripheral Nervous System
Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that results from damage to the peripheral nerves. This damage can disrupt the normal functioning of those nerves, causing them not to work properly. For example, they might send nociceptors to your brain when nothing is causing you harm. They might also not send those signals when something is harming you.
Your peripheral nerves come out of the spinal cord and carry messages to and from the brain. They make up an intricate network that connects the brain and spinal cord to your muscles, skin, and internal organs. The peripheral nervous system sends information to the rest of your body and transmits sensory information to the central nervous system.
People generally experience peripheral neuropathy in their hands and feet, but it can also impact other areas and functions of the body. To diagnose this condition, your doctor may perform a physical examination and ask about your medical history. You may also need to undergo other tests like an electromyography or nerve conduction study.
What are the Symptoms?
Those with peripheral neuropathy may notice stabbing, burning, or tingling sensations in the affected area. People can also experience motor, sensory, and or autonomic symptoms. Doctors can diagnose you with a specific type of peripheral neuropathy based on the group of nerves it affects. Sometimes it can affect one or all three groups.
Some of the motor, sensory, and autonomic symptoms you may experience from peripheral neuropathy include the following:
- Muscle weakness
- Extreme sensitivity to touch
- Hurting from light touch
- Lack of coordination or balance
- Loss of bowel control
- Low blood pressure
Common Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy
Causes of peripheral neuropathy can be classified as either acquired or hereditary. For example, someone who inherits a disorder like Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease may need peripheral neuropathy treatment. Poor habits can also increase your chances of getting this condition. Some cases may also have no known cause, which is called idiopathic neuropathy.
Below are some of the acquired and hereditary causes of peripheral neuropathy:
When cancerous or non-cancerous growths develop on the nerves, they can press against them and cause neuropathy symptoms. They can occur anywhere in the body and may lead to nerve damage or loss of function in the affected area. It’s not clear why some peripheral nerve tumors develop, but some may be linked to inherited syndromes or triggered by an injury or surgery.
Autoimmune disorders happen when your immune system attacks and destroys the healthy tissues in your body. They can impact the peripheral nervous system in many ways, including chronic inflammation and damaged tissues throughout the body. The pressure caused by inflammation can also lead to severe discomfort.
Some autoimmune diseases linked to peripheral neuropathy include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Sjogren’s syndrome
If you get an injury from a fall or accident, it could sever or damage your peripheral nerves. Your nerves can also compress from repetitive stress or narrowed space where they run. The Sunderland classification system defines peripheral nerve injury in five different degrees:
- First degree – A local block at the site of the injury. This is known as neurapraxia.
- Second degree – Loss of continuity of the axons within the nerve. The second, third, and fourth degrees are known as axonotmesis.
- Third degree – Damage to the axons and their supporting structures within the nerve.
- Fourth degree – Damage to the axons and the surrounding tissues that prevent nerve regeneration.
- Fifth degree – The nerve is completely divided in two. This is known as neurotmesis.
Diabetes is the most common cause of peripheral neuropathy due to chronic high blood pressure that results in nerve damage. Between 60% to 70% of individuals with diabetes will eventually develop this condition. Peripheral neuropathy can lead to numbness and loss of sensation, though not everyone will experience this. Fortunately, you can take steps to delay or prevent nerve damage.
According to the American Diabetes Association, you should be monitoring your blood sugar level and keeping it in range. You can also protect your feet with special shoes and take caution when you’re exercising. Check your feet for any signs of injury or infections.
Excess alcohol consumption can cause vitamin deficiencies, increasing your chances of developing peripheral neuropathy. It can have a toxic effect on your nerve tissues, and those who drink too much may feel tingling in their limbs from nerve damage. This damage is generally permanent and will get worse if you continue to drink alcohol excessively.
Exposure to Poisons
This is known as toxic neuropathy, and people can get it due to exposure to harmful substances. Over 200 chemicals are neurotoxic to humans, and the peripheral axons are vulnerable to those toxins. Using products like cleaning fluid, certain beauty products, or insecticides can increase your risk of developing this form of peripheral neuropathy.
Some other toxic substances you should steer clear of include industrial chemicals and heavy metals like mercury and lead.
Some medications can cause nerve damage and the development of peripheral neuropathy. It’s fairly common, and certain drugs can cause more consistent neuropathic side effects than others.
Some of the medications that can lead to drug-induced peripheral neuropathy include:
- Certain blood pressure medications
- Medications to treat cancer
- Drugs to fight bacterial infections
This type of disease affects the network of your blood vessels. Certain disorders like blood clots or inflammation cause the blood flow in your arms and legs to slow down. This deprives your nerve cells of the oxygen it needs to survive and can result in nerve damage or nerve cell death.
Other common vascular diseases that may result in peripheral neuropathy include:
- Varicose veins
Available Treatment Options
Depending on the severity and cause of your case, many treatment options are available. You can either stop the cause of your peripheral neuropathy or find ways to control and manage your symptoms to prevent further nerve damage.
Certain treatments may not work for everyone because of the many different reasons for developing this condition. We strongly encourage you to talk to your doctor so they can determine the best approach for you.
Some of the available treatment options include:
Over-the-Counter or Prescription Medications
This treatment option is ideal for individuals whose peripheral neuropathy cannot be easily cured. Over-the-counter medications can help control moderate discomfort. You’ll want something that contains chemicals that adjust the irritation signaling pathways within the central and peripheral systems.
If you want something stronger than generic brands, you can ask your doctor for some prescription medication.
Physical therapy can use a combination of massage, focused exercises, and other treatments to help increase your muscle strength. Anyone can benefit from this form of treatment, regardless of the underlying cause of peripheral neuropathy. When done regularly, it can also help control blood sugar levels in those with diabetes.
Some physical therapy treatments can also help with your balance and range of motion, which peripheral neuropathy can affect.
If your peripheral neuropathy results in physical or cognitive issues, occupational therapy can teach you how to adapt. This treatment option helps you cope with the discomfort and loss of function that often accompanies peripheral neuropathy. The goal of occupational therapy is to teach you skills to make up for the loss.
You’ll learn how to prevent falls, adjust habits, and make ergonomic changes to reduce discomfort during each session.
If your case is caused by things like herniated discs, infections, or nerve entrapment disorders, surgery may be an option. Removing them can eliminate discomfort and cure your peripheral neuropathy by freeing the affected area from the surrounding pressure. Surgery may also be recommended to prevent the need to have the area amputated.
Making some lifestyle changes can help relieve the discomfort you may experience from peripheral neuropathy. There are also some home remedies you can try if your case isn’t too severe. Some of these may include:
- Stopping or cutting back on alcohol consumption
- Using a heating pad or ice pack
- Massaging the affected areas
- Moderate, regular exercise
- Not putting pressure on the affected area
Another thing you can do is take more precautions at home to prevent your chances of having an accident in your home.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
TENS is a great treatment option for those who don’t want to take drugs or medication. During this treatment, you will have electrodes placed on your skin. They send small amounts of electricity into the skin, which disrupts nerves from transmitting nociceptors to the brain.
Evidence shows that it can work for some people, but how much relief it provides can vary from person to person.
Casts or Splints
If you’re experiencing muscle weakness or having difficulty with stability, wearing a cast or split can help by providing support. Having this support can help the affected area remain in a proper position and relieve the discomfort you may feel from peripheral neuropathy symptoms. Casts are also ideal for preventing and healing diabetic foot ulcers.
If you’re looking for a more complementary treatment for peripheral neuropathy relief, there are several alternative techniques that have shown to be promising, including acupuncture. This treatment involves inserting thin needles into different areas of your body to stimulate its pressure points. It triggers your nervous system to release chemicals that change your irritation experience.
Acupuncture can also help provide energy balance to your body, improving your emotional wellbeing. You may start to notice improvement from your peripheral neuropathy symptoms after multiple sessions, and you’ll want to go to a certified practitioner for best results.
Can Peripheral Neuropathy be Prevented or Reversed?
Absolutely! There are certain things you can do at home to help reduce your risk of peripheral neuropathy. The previously mentioned lifestyle changes are excellent ways to help you adopt healthy habits that can prevent this condition. If you have diabetes or poor blood flow, managing your condition and taking care of your feet can also help.
Treating the underlying cause of this condition can help cure it, but it can also be reversed. Unfortunately, some degree of permanent damage cannot be fixed. Whether it can be reversed will depend on the cause of the nerve damage. If yours is caused by an infection or tumor, the symptoms can go away once it’s treated or removed.
Those who have peripheral neuropathy from diabetes might end up with permanent nerve damage, especially if they leave it untreated. That doesn’t mean those symptoms can’t be improved with some lifestyle changes and the right combination of treatments.
How Stretching and Exercise Can Help
Yes, stretching can absolutely help relieve your peripheral neuropathy symptoms! It can get your blood flowing, and some exercises can preserve nerve function while promoting nerve regeneration. Stretching can increase your flexibility and warm your body up if you’re going to be doing physical activity. By making it a routine, you can reduce your risk of developing an injury while you exercise.
Another way it can help is by boosting your energy and activating your nerve signals. Please note that it’s not a permanent solution, nor does it address the initial cause of your nerve damage. Stretching can help by:
- Strengthening your legs
- Improving balance
- Increasing blood flow
- Relieving discomfort
Let Us Assist You with Your Peripheral Neuropathy Treatment!
Our stretch practitioners are always happy to help you find relief from peripheral neuropathy symptoms. We can provide practitioner-assisted stretching routines to help target those aching muscles and get you back to your daily routine without discomfort.
If your doctor approves this method for your peripheral neuropathy treatment, we encourage you to book a 30-minute session at a location near you. Find your closest Stretch Zone and see what a difference practitioner-assisted stretching can make on your body and life!