Peripheral neuropathy is a condition marked by localized weakness, numbness and pain, typically in the hands and feet. Patients often complain that they feel like they’re being constantly poked by pins and needles. Before losing feeling altogether, many patients experience stabbing or burning pain in the affected areas. The sensory loss can lead to other issues such as lack of balance, an inability to hold objects or an inability to feel burns and cuts that then become infected because one isn’t aware they’re even there. Depending on the cause and nerves affected, some patients also experience bowel, bladder and digestive issues, heat intolerance, an inability to sweat or excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis).
There are three types of nerves that make up the peripheral nervous system. Sensory nerves carry signals from your sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin) to your brain. Motor nerves carry signals from your brain to your muscles. Autonomic nerves help control basic body functions like digestion, blood pressure and bladder control. Neuropathy results when any one or a combination of these nerve cells are damaged or destroyed and are no longer able to properly signal with the brain.
Peripheral neuropathy is most common in diabetics (60-70% of diabetics will experience peripheral neuropathy) but can also be caused by autoimmune disorders such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, Guillain-Barre syndrome, vasculitis or chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy. Other causes can include chemotherapy (chemo-induced neuropathy affects 30-40% of patients who undergo chemotherapy), traumatic injury to a nerve, group of nerves or the central nervous system (sometimes patients experience peripheral neuropathy post-surgery), infections including Lyme disease, shingles and Epstein-Barr, exposure to toxins, or other metabolic or inherited issues. Alcoholism has also been known to cause neuropathy.
Treatment for peripheral neuropathy depends on the underlying cause but typically includes antidepressant, anti-seizure and/or pain-relieving medications that tend to deliver marginal results. Physical therapy and walking are helpful to increase circulation, reduce pain, build strength and improve balance, but can be too painful for some patients and don’t reverse the condition.
Fortunately, studies show that acupuncture is one of the few treatments that can be effective in treating and improving symptoms associated with peripheral neuropathy. By placing needles at select locations and adding electric stimulation, acupuncture can help improve blood flow and re-stimulate nerve fibers to improve nerve conduction. This can result in reduced inflammation and pain, and increased sensory function, with little to no side effects. Clinically, we’ve seen that those patients who utilize acupuncture in their long-term treatment of peripheral neuropathy experience a 30-80% improvement and many can again enjoy activities of daily living that were once compromised.
If you or someone you love is suffering from this chronic condition, schedule a consultation with us today. It’s time to start living again!