Peripheral Neuropathy 101
If you are experiencing aching, piercing, burning, numbness, tingling, itching or any other symptom in your feet and legs and/or hands caused by the ravaging effects of Peripheral Neuropathy and would like to be free of these life-altering symptoms once and for all, please read this in it’s entirety.
The information provided here will assist you in both understanding your pain and other symptoms as well as provide you with information on a very successful method that we use in The Neighborhood Neuropathy Center to help get rid of the pain and symptoms of Neuropathy.
We do this without:
Although there is no known medical cure for Neuropathy, there are new and exciting methods to manage, control and even reverse the damage done to the nerves caused by certain factors. If you are suffering from this debilitating condition and simply taking drug after drug trying to alleviate your condition, you’re not alone.
It is estimated that over 20 million Americans suffer from Peripheral Neuropathy and that doesn’t even include the number of Americans who are diagnosed with Diabetes everyday and who will eventually develop this condition.
If you are one of these people, you know first hand what it’s like to be unable to do the things you like because of the constant tingling, pain, numbness and loss of feeling in your feet and legs. There is nothing more tragic than feeling you are unable to be fully engaged in the life that you have worked so hard to attain. Your zest for life and your enthusiasm for living may be greatly diminished by this pervasive and intruding pain and numbness which is affecting everything you do.
In addition to the physical limitations you are experiencing, we know how mentally and emotionally devastating it is not to be able to enjoy the simple pleasures of life—like walking around the block, playing with your grandkids, enjoying a round of golf or simply getting a good night’s sleep!
A lot of folks have the constant companion of worry as well. Maybe you worry about losing your balance, missing a step and falling—leading to a broken hip—or worse.
What Exactly is Peripheral Neuropathy?
Peripheral Neuropathy (usually just called neuropathy) refers to the damage, malfunction and even death of nerves in the body outside the brain and spinal cord—usually located close to the surface of the skin.
Peripheral means, “that which is at or near the perimeter”
Neuron means, “nerve”
Opathy means “pathology or sickness.”
The most common nerves affected are the peripheral nerves. These are the long nerve fibers that extend out to the ends of the fingertips and down to the tips of the toes.
The most common neuropathy extends down into the feet and into the toes, starting off with numbness, tingling and/or shooting pan. Being a progressive disease, this condition will generally worsen as time goes by.
Neuropathy is a painful condition that can have an effect on an individual’s life and their ability to maintain a normal active lifestyle.
Peripheral neuropathy is a disease afflicting 20 million people in the United States. That’s about one out of every 17 people, and most are over the age of 45.
The Symptoms of Neuropathy
The symptoms of Neuropathy depend on exactly where the nerves that are damaged are located and which types of nerves are impaired.
Sensory nerves are the ones usually affected. Changes in feeling in the toes, feet, fingers, and hands present in a “stocking glove” pattern. These feelings generally do not go beyond the wrist or ankle. Common symptoms caused by sensory nerve damage are tingling, pins and needles, cold, prickling, pinching, burning or electric shocks. These are called paresthesias.
An unpleasant sensation sometimes brought on by touching or being touched is called dysesthesia.
Numbness or diminished sensation is called anesthesia.
There are often unique challenges found in different people. For some, it results in various forms of numbness. For others, the nerves are undergoing abnormal internal stimulation when no such outside stimulation is present and often results in different types of pain and symptoms including:
· Bee sting or shock like sensations
· Stinging when you are barely touched
· Difficulty sleeping due to pain in feet and legs
· Tight, vice like sensations around the legs or ankles
· The feeling of little bugs crawling on your feet or legs
· Both numbness and pain, meaning too little and too much stimulation of different nerves
Causes and Types of Neuropathy
Peripheral Neuropathy comes about from many different causes—also known as “risk factors.” These are divided into three different categories.
Idiopathic (unknown cause)
Each of these creates their own unique set of challenges for those suffering with this disease. Let’s take a look at all three…
One of the leading causes of chemical neuropathy is from diabetes. Uncontrolled blood sugar or glucose levels can lead to the damage of small nerve cells resulting in the loss of feeling and the start of odd and uncomfortable sensations.
This is particularly true in the feet where blood sugar restricts blood flow to the smaller peripheral nerves. As oxygen and nutrients are restricted to these nerves, they begin to die. If glucose levels are sporadic and imbalanced for a long period, the diabetic could be facing severe consequences and an added lifelong struggle.
With some diabetic patients, neuropathy symptoms do not begin to show for ten or twenty years after being diagnosed with diabetes. Even then, diabetic neuropathy symptoms sometimes develop over time. By the time the symptoms are felt, the nerve damage could have been going on for a long, long time. Of course, this problem is increasing, as more and more people are afflicted with diabetes at earlier and earlier ages. It is actually estimated that over 60% of all diabetics will develop some kind of neuropathic condition.
Diabetes causes more than 80,000 foot and leg amputations each year in the United States. Roughly four of every five non-traumatic leg amputations are from uncontrolled peripheral neuropathy.
Diabetes is a terrible disease, and neuropathy makes it even worse.
Chemotherapy and Cancer Therapy Drugs
The second most common neuropathy is caused by chemical toxins, and this includes chemotherapy and cancer therapy drugs.
Chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy may be called CIPN for short. People who have been exposed to any type of toxic chemicals—can be “neurotoxic”, that is, toxic to the nerves to the point of damage. The most sensitive nerves are those small fiber ones which are located at the tips of fingers or toes.
The toxic chemicals used travel through the entire body via the bloodstream, and certain types of chemicals can damage different nerves. Symptoms usually begin in the areas of the body furthest from the head, but move in closer over time.
In most cases, people will notice CIPN symptoms in the feet and later on in the hands. Symptoms may start in the toes, but move on to the ankles and legs. Likewise, symptoms can move up from the fingers to the hands and arms.
CIPN most often affects both sides of the body the same. When it affects both hands and both feet, doctors may call it a “stocking glove distribution”. CIPN can begin any time after chemotherapy, is cumulative so often gets worse as treatments go on. CIPN may or may not resolve upon completion of chemotherapy. If it does improve, it usually takes a very, very long time and may not resolve completely.
Statins and Neuropathy
Studies have confirmed that peripheral neuropathy (tingling, numbness and burning pain) may occur with statins. Some researchers estimate that one in ten people who have taken statin drugs will experience a mild form of neuropathy where the symptoms could include feelings of tiredness, difficulty in rising from a low chair or getting out of bed, shortness of breath and difficulty walking.
A famous Danish study of neuropathy as a side effect to statin use concluded that an individual who is a long-term user of statin drugs has anywhere from 4 to 14 times greater risk of developing peripheral neuropathy than a person who does not take statin drugs. Typically, long-term use of statins is defined as 2 years or more, but neuropathy can occur even after just a few days of use in a susceptible individual.
Other side effects from using statins may include sleep problems, sexual dysfunction, fatigue, dizziness and a sense of detachment.
Additionally, people have mentioned experiencing swelling, shortness of breath, vision changes, changes in temperature regulation, weight change, increased appetite, breast enlargement, blood sugar changes, dry skin, rashes, blood pressure changes, nausea, upset stomach, bleeding and ringing in the ears or other noises with statin drug usage.
Other neurotoxic chemicals causing neuropathies include:
· Agent Orange used in the Vietnam War
· Prolonged exposure to heavy metals, gold compounds, lead arsenic, mercury and organophosphate pesticides
· Alcohol abuse (damages nerve fibers in tips of fingers and toes)
· Certain prescription medicines
The next cause of neuropathy is the mechanical (compressive) category.
This is very common and is usually the result of a biomechanical joint involvement somewhere in the body that compresses a nerve.
When this compression occurs as the nerve emits from the spine, a painful condition such as sciatica may occur. Sciatica is a form of neuropathy that causes pain and/or numbness down the back of one or both legs. This compression can be caused by a misalignment of one or more of the vertebrae in the spinal column, disc bulge or herniation, or a condition known as spinal stenosis.
If the nerve is mechanically compressed in the wrist, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can occur. This can result in pain, numbness or weakness in the hand and fingers.
Imagine yourself stepping on a garden hose. Just as the mechanical force of your foot interrupts the water, so is the flow of nerve impulses interrupted by the pressure, which results in pain, numbness, or both.
What idiopathic neuropathy really means is the physician has no idea why a person has the pain or why the person has neuropathy. Idiopathic actually means there is no explanation for the condition, so it cannot be measured. It doesn’t mean it isn’t real and it doesn’t mean the neuropathy isn’t being experienced. It is. It simply means the typical medical evaluations are unable to render a cause.
Why Conventional Treatments are Unsuccessful
Traditional medical treatments for neuropathy have had a pretty dismal record of success over the years. Why are conventional treatments so unsuccessful at treating neuropathy?
It is because they focus on treating only the symptoms of the disease, not the root cause of the neuropathy, which is lack of circulation to the nerve.
Interestingly, most pharmaceutical (drug) treatments for neuropathy are not even intended to treat neuropathy, but are actually designed to treat other conditions.
· Neurontin (Gabapentin) is an anticonvulsive, designed to treat seizures
· Elavil (Amitriptyline), Tofranil (Imipramine) and Cymbalta (Duloxetine) are antidepressants.
· Pregabalin (Lyrica) is designed to treat fibromyalgia, shingles, depression and spinal cord injury nerve pain.
They all have side effects, are expensive, and do not fix the root cause of neuropathy, they just mask the symptoms. Some of the potential and dangerous side effects include:
· Suppressed immune system function
· Liver, kidney and stomach disorders
· Kidney failure
· Increased risk of kidney dialysis
· Suicidal tendencies
· Many more
If you have been told by doctor after doctor that: “There is nothing you can do and you will just have to live with it” then please continue reading. There IS something that can be done.
Neighborhood Neuropathy Center’s Plan of Care
1. The centerpiece of our peripheral neuropathy treatment program centers on Low Level Laser Therapy (Infrared and Near Infrared). This therapy effectively penetrates the skin to stimulate healing of the damaged nerves and to restore normal nerve function while assisting in new capillary formation and nerve growth. Additionally, it also releases a natural pain relieving compound found in the soft tissue lining of your blood vessels known as Nitric Oxide which helps bring about relief and increases blood flow to help regenerate the nerves.
2. We then utilize different frequencies of vibration on distinct areas of your lower extremities, which further stimulates new capillary and nerve regeneration and stimulates the reconnection of the peripheral nerves with the tissues they serve. Tissue vibration also serves to reintroduce proper sensation and balance which in many cases further aids in pain reduction. We have found that different nerve types in the body need different frequencies of vibration in order to heal and respond most efficiently. This vibratory stimulation also increases certain chemicals in the feet that cause a dilation of blood vessels. The more dilation we get the better the circulation becomes. The better the circulation, the more oxygen and nutrients are available to help the nerves to start the process of reversing the degeneration of those nerves.
3. The 3rd prong to our system is to address the soft tissue around the nerves. We typically see a lot of edema, swelling and congestion in these soft tissues. It is not un-common for someone to come into my clinic with “pitting edema” which feels to them like they have clay instead of skin and muscle. When you press you finger into it, it feels like our finger is in a hunk of clay. That is how congested and diseased the tissue has started to become from the damaged nerves. First, we want to address the health of the skin, muscles and connective tissue associated with the whole foot and leg. We have a system of doing manual therapy, which starts working the lymphatic system, getting the hard tissue softened and waste material worked out of these tissues. Then we can begin the process of circulation by mobilizing and manipulating the soft tissue.
4. The 4th approach we use is to reconnect the communication between the nerves and the brain. What happens in neuropathy conditions is that as the signals begin to diminish and weaken down into the feet, the nerves begin to die, degenerate and go away. The brain simply can’t feel or “hear” the feet any longer. So we begin the process of driving those signals back up to the brain in an effort to re-educate the nerve signal that is used to easily transmit to the brain and is now impaired. We re-stimulate, re-educate and retrain that command to the brain by way of sensory stimulation.
5. The 5th prong approach is lifestyle improvement, guidance and supplementation. We work with our patients to help them minimize inflammation and toxicity from their diet and environment. We also provide nutritional supplements that are needed to help nerve repair and regeneration.
There is Hope!
© Neighborhood Neuropathy Center of Reno