Do you experience tingling, numbness, weakness or pain in your hands or feet? If so, you may have peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is caused by damage to the peripheral nerves (nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord) that coordinate signals between the brain and the rest of the body. These signals can affect motor nerves responsible for helping you walk or hold objects, or sensory nerves that help signal to your brain if your hot, cold or in pain. Early signs of peripheral neuropathy may include numbness and tingling that can progress to sharp, stabbing and even burning pain before a complete loss of sensation occurs. This is particularly dangerous because one can no longer feel pain from cuts which can quickly become infected, or temperature, which can lead to burns and other wounds. As the neuropathy progresses, people may experience muscle weakness, a loss of coordination and falling, or even paralysis.
According to the National Institute of Health, more than 20 million people in the United States may have some form of peripheral neuropathy with diabetes being the leading cause. Other causes of peripheral neuropathy include vascular damage or reduced blood supply, vitamin B12 deficiency, vitamin B6 excess, chemotherapy, kidney disease, liver disorders, toxins or infections like Lyme, shingles or Epstein-Barr virus, autoimmune diseases such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, Sjogren’s syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis, or physical injury or trauma to nerves.
On average, human peripheral nerves regenerate at a rate of approximately 1 inch per month. As with any cell, nerve cells need nutrient-rich, oxygenated blood to heal and grow. A healthy diet containing fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains help ensure adequate B-12 intake to support healthy nerve growth. Exercise is also a great way to increase circulation but can be challenging for people with more advanced cases where balance is an issue. People with peripheral neuropathy should avoid alcohol and smoking, both of which reduce oxygen in the blood.
Numbing creams, antidepressants, pain medications and opioids are the most commonly prescribed treatments. Unfortunately, these don’t address the root cause, are often not effective in alleviating symptoms in more severe cases and many drugs have side-effects that outweigh the benefits. Fortunately, acupuncture has been found to be effective at improving circulation, reducing pain and restoring muscle function without dangerous or addictive side-effects. Findings from electromyographic nerve conduction tests of acupuncture patients with nerve injuries published in Neural Regeneration Research document “an effective response” in 80% of patients participating in the study.
Peripheral neuropathy is a chronic and progressive condition that cannot be cured, so it’s important to begin treatment early to prevent further decline.