Damage to any part of the peripheral nervous system can interfere with the messages being sent from the body to the brain and spinal cord, causing a host of unpleasant symptoms such as pain, tingling, numbness and weakness in the affected area. Whether it’s damage to a single nerve (as in carpal tunnel syndrome) or an entire nerve group, peripheral neuropathy can cause serious problems.
Peripheral neuropathy has a range of causes. One of the most common is diabetes; continuous high levels of blood sugar cause at least half of those with diabetes to suffer from some type of peripheral neuropathy. Other causes are an autoimmune disease such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, nerve pressure or trauma, vitamin deficiency (particularly B-vitamins), alcoholism, exposure to toxins such as heavy metals, and other diseases such as that of the liver and kidneys or an underactive thyroid.
The symptoms and severity of peripheral neuropathy vary, depending on which nerves are affected. The first signs are often a tingling or burning sensation originating in the arms or legs, particularly in the feet and toes. This may also include numbness to the point where you do not notice stepping on something sharp or burning your fingers on the stove.
Other symptoms include weakness and lack of coordination. This causes some people to trip or fall often, when they find their legs suddenly buckling under them. When nerves connected to the digestive system are damaged, it can cause problems with digestion, including feeling bloated, heartburn, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation. Peripheral neuropathy can also contribute to incontinence, impotence and heart problems.
The best treatment is prevention, so if you have diabetes (or even if you don’t), try to control your blood sugar as much as possible and eat a healthy diet full of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and lean protein. Eating well can also provide you with healthy B-vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids that support the nervous system. Drink alcohol in moderation or get treatment if alcohol is a problem for you.
If you have peripheral neuropathy, in addition to the suggestions above, there are a few treatments that your chiropractor can recommend which are effective, depending on the severity of your condition. These are as follows:
- Rest is a good place to start, especially in cases of neuropathy due to repetitive motion, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
- The periodic application of ice in cases such as these is often helpful to bring down the inflammation that is causing pressure on the nerves.
- Exercise and massage both promote circulation and stimulate the nerves, and exercise also helps to control blood sugar levels.
- Be sure to wear shoes that are not too tight and examine your feet on a regular basis for blisters, calluses or cuts so they do not become infected.
Though peripheral neuropathy is never fun, it can be managed so you can live a relatively pain-free life. Regular visits to your chiropractor can provide relief from pain and help speed healing.