What is peripheral neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is a nerve disorder that involves damage to the peripheral nervous system (PNS). These are the nerves that send information from other parts of the body to and from the brain, specifically the organs, limbs, and skin. This is opposed to the central nervous system made up of the brain and spinal cord.
When the peripheral nerves are damaged, they fail to deliver sensory information back to your brain. They might send signals of pain when there’s nothing causing pain, or you might not feel pain when you should. This can be very scary because pain is what informs us of trouble.
More than 100 types of peripheral neuropathy exist. There are two types of peripheral neuropathy: mononeuropathy where a single nerve is damaged, and polyneuropathy where multiple nerves are damaged. The most common type of mononeuropathy is carpal tunnel syndrome. Polyneuropathy is more common, often affecting those with major injuries, autoimmune diseases, or diabetes.
What causes peripheral neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy may develop for short-term (acute) reasons or it may be chronic. It can be acquired, hereditary, or idiopathic (unknown cause). Acquired neuropathy is often from injury, infection, vitamin deficiency, or diabetes.
Hereditary peripheral neuropathy, where your parents pass it on to you, is uncommon. The major types are Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), the hereditary sensory and autonomic neuropathies (HSAN), the hereditary motor neuropathies (HMN), and small fiber neuropathies (SFN).
Peripheral neuropathy can be acute. It is usually caused by some types of insecticides, autoimmune disorders like Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), and some antibiotics, anticonvulsants, and sedatives.
Chronic peripheral neuropathy is often idiopathic. However chronic causes are often associated with exposure to poisons or heavy metals, hypothyroidism, and nutritional or vitamin deficiencies, especially vitamins B1, B6, and B12.
It may be acute or chronic, and you may experience periods of remission.
What are the risk factors?
Higher risk factors for developing peripheral neuropathy include:
- Alcohol abuse
- Kidney conditions
- Liver conditions
- Lyme disease
- Repetitive motion injury
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Lifestyle choices can also play a key role in preventing peripheral neuropathy. From alcohol intake to food choice, vitamin intake, weight loss, toxin avoidance, and regular exercise.
What are the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy?
Based on the type of nerve that is damaged, peripheral neuropathy symptoms can be classified into three categories:
- Sensory nerves transmit sensations such as touch and pain. Sensory nerve damage symptoms can vary wildly. Generally, lesser nerve damage may show as the inability or extreme sensitivity to pain, while more nerve damage may lead to coordination trouble.
- Motor nerves control the muscles for movement, such as walking. Muscle weakness and cramps are the most common symptoms of motor nerve damage. If left untreated, severe cases may lead to partial paralysis.
- Autonomic nerves control unconscious activities such as breathing, digesting food, and heart operation. If damaged, you may have heat intolerance, you may sweat a lot or not at all, your blood pressure may change, and you may have digestive problems.
While symptoms can be generally categorized as such, there are a number of symptoms that most people with peripheral neuropathy experience. These include:
- Burning sensation
- Extreme sensitivity to touch
- Muscle weakness
- Pain when you walk
- Pins and needles
- Poor balance
- Sensation of vibration or skin crawling
- Stumbling or falling
- Sudden, sharp pain
- Trouble sleeping
- Trouble swallowing
Peripheral neuropathy symptoms often affect the toes and fingers first. Over time, symptoms can move up into the hands and feet, then into the leg and arms. They are often symmetrical, affecting both sides of the body at the same time.
What can BackFit do for peripheral neuropathy?
Our doctors at BackFit Health + Spine will perform several tests to diagnose the type and severity of neuropathy that you have and what is causing it. Family history and a physical examination will help us discover what parts of your body are most affected by nerve damage, including discovering any atrophied muscles from the damage. We may also perform a nerve conduction velocity test.
Peripheral neuropathy is a complex condition with many different treatment methods. Here at BackFit, we focus on freeing up the nerves with chiropractic adjustments, as well as prescribed exercise with physical therapy. For some cases, we also will recommend nutritional testing, advice, and supplementation. These methods resolve many patients’ worst pain complaints.
If your case is more advanced, we will refer you to our pain centers for a variety of options for treatment. These include lumbar sympathetic blocks, medication, and in rare cases, a spinal cord stimulator trial implant.
In many cases, you can help reduce nerve damage by catching it early. If it is progressive, getting treatment early also helps manage pain or discomfort before it becomes worse.