Peripheral neuropathy encompasses the damage to peripheral nerves resulting in muscle weakness, tingling, numbness, and pain. It often starts in the feet and legs and can develop quickly or over the course of years.
When a single nerve or nerve type is damaged, the condition is called mononeuropathy. Perhaps the most well-known manifestation of mononeuropathy is carpal tunnel syndrome, in which irritation of or pressure on the median nerve causes pain in the hand and wrist.
Polyneuropathy, when multiple peripheral nerves malfunction together, is the more common form of neuropathy. Roughly 70% of polyneuropathy cases are “length-dependent,” which means that symptoms start in and are most severe in the feet, where the nerves are furthest away.
The causes of neuropathy are many, including vitamin deficiencies associated with poor nutrition, alcohol abuse, disease, and chronic illnesses.
The peripheral nervous system includes the network of nerves beyond the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). Depending on their type, peripheral nerves can receive information and send signals to the brain or receive instructions from the brain and relay them as instructions to muscles. When neurons (nerve cells) are damaged or dysfunctional, that communication is disrupted, and neuropathy results. Neurons can incur damage by a number of different causes.
Though anyone may experience acquired neuropathy, risk increases with age, especially over 55 years.
- Environmental factors. External trauma such as injury or toxins can damage nerves. Insufficient vitamin levels can also be a factor as vitamins E, B1, B6, B12, and niacin are essential to nerve health.
- Diseases. Diseases of the liver and kidney can result in neuropathy, as can autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
- Infections. Lyme disease, AIDS, and HIV are a few examples of infections that can cause neuropathy.
- Diabetes. Diabetes is the leading cause of peripheral neuropathy in the United States.
- Other metabolic conditions. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity can strain the peripheral nervous system.
- Heavy alcohol use. Excessive alcohol consumption leads to vitamin deficiencies and introduction of toxins in the blood.
- Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can cause nerve damage leading to neuropathy.
Though not common, causes of neuropathy can be passed genetically. Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 1, the most frequent example of hereditary neuropathy, causes weakening of the limbs and arises after puberty.
If the cause of neuropathy is unknown, it is known as idiopathic. Roughly one third of neuropathies are classified this way.
Symptoms are determined by the kind of neuropathy and which nerves are damaged, but it is common to experience weakness or numbness, a “pins and needles” kind of tingling, and even sharp or burning pain. If the damage occurs in autonomic nerves, patients may have trouble with excessive sweating or find their digestive or circulatory systems compromised. Some patients have felt like their nerves were smothered, like they were wearing gloves or socks. The loss of ability to sense pain or temperature changes can lead to other injuries like burns.
The key to treating neuropathy is to determine and treat the cause of the nerve damage. Sometimes this means relieving pressure on nerves, and this can be done through chiropractic treatment. Techniques such as spinal manipulation (chiropractic adjustments) and spinal decompression (performed through gentle motorized traction) can be very effective for moving herniated discs or other transgressors off of traumatized nerves.
In cases where a cure is not possible, your chiropractor can temper symptoms, sometimes through methods of laser therapy or therapeutic ultrasound. Instead of masking symptoms, like medication does, chiropractic care strives to bring a patient’s body into alignment to stimulate the body’s natural healing mechanisms. Come see us at Pinnacle Chiropractic about how to treat your neuropathy.