We’ve all felt that prickly buzzing feeling called pins and needles when our feet fall asleep. For people with Peripheral neuropathy, this intense sensation can be a constant and disruptive condition. When it comes to peripheral neuropathy, here are the eight leading causes.
What is Peripheral Neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is a condition resulting from damage to the peripheral nerves, or the nerves outside the spinal cord and brain. This damage inhibits the ability of the nerves to carry signals to and from the central nervous system. It can affect sensation in the extremities, loss of function in the internal organs, and disruptions in motor function.
Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy
In addition to pins and needles in their feet, patients may also exhibit numbness, hypersensitivity to touch, muscle weakness, or sharp electrical pain.
Other symptoms include:
- Diabetic nerve pain
- Loss of balance increasing the odds of a fall
- Burning/freezing pain
- Higher risk for injury leading to premature entrance into assisted living facility or nursing home
- Pain with walking
- Chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy
- Restless legs
- Delayed motor function which can interfere with the ability to drive safely or cause a person to trip and fall
Cause and Effect
We won’t be listing all of the types of neuropathy as there are more than 100 diagnosable conditions. We can group them into the top categories, however, as listed below:
- Diabetes is usually the first condition that comes to mind for neuropathy, and for good reason. 60% of diabetics will develop neuropathy in their lifetime. Excessive amounts of sugar in the body prevent proper signaling from your nerves to your spinal column and up to your brain.
- Lifestyle plays a major role in getting and avoiding nerve damage. Sometimes malnutrition is the culprit, as the modern American diet is often short on vitamins and minerals. On the other hand, too much of some nutrients can also be harmful, such as taking too many vitamins or supplements.
- Exposure to chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, solvents, toxins, and heavy metals can all lead to neuropathy, especially if exposure is prolonged.
- Trauma can cause damage to one or more nerves. Car accidents, sports injuries, and back injuries may harm the spinal column and surrounding nerves. Surgery, though often planned, is trauma. Nerve damage at and around the surgery site is not uncommon. Some people may even experience symptoms in the hands and feet afterwards.
- Medicines for cholesterol, blood pressure, epilepsy, and treating bacterial infections have also been linked to peripheral neuropathy as well as medications such as chemotherapy or radiation for cancer.
- Autoimmune disorders like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis cause the body to attack itself. Excessive inflammation and swelling cause extreme pain in the extremities.
- Alcohol, smoking, and recreational drug use all have a negative effect on the nervous system, both causing and worsening nerve damage.
- Genetics cause conditions like Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, which attack motor function and may lead to deformities in the feet.
Can I Prevent Neuropathy?
In some cases, nerve damage can be avoided by preventing injury. If you are looking to avoid symptoms with neuropathy, taking the following precautionary steps may save you a great deal of discomfort later. Here are some steps you can do at home to help with symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.
- Regular exercise increases blood flow to the nerves.
- Control your blood sugar.
- Protect your feet with comfortable, well-fitted, well-cushioned, and supportive shoes.
- Inspect your feet daily for blisters, hot spots, cuts, and other damage. Conditions such as Diabetes decrease blood flow to the extremities. That means damage to your feet will be slow to heal. Any resulting infection will damage surrounding tissues, including the nerves.
- Make sure you are taking the right vitamins and minerals, especially if you’re taking medications that change how your body absorbs nutrients. Chronic nutrient deficiencies and overdosing on non-water soluble nutrients can each cause nerve deterioration.
- If you take medications regularly for a chronic condition, ask your doctor about medicines that don’t cause nerve damage.
- Quit smoking to encourage better circulation.
The Foundation For Peripheral Neuropathy issued this handy guide for ideas on self-care.
If you are diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, early treatment is critical to heal or slow the damage.
Option 1: Do Nothing: However, if left untreated peripheral neuropathy is a condition that continues to get worse.
Option 2: Medications or Surgery: Masking the symptoms with certain medications do have the potential to decrease or temporarily relieve the symptoms but do not address the underlying cause.
Option 3: Find a doctor who looks to address the cause: They will be able to test the peripheral nerves in the hands and/or feet and see if there is any underlying nerve damage from the spinal region that may be associated with the symptoms you are having.
What if My Doctor Can’t Fix it?
If you have been told that “nothing can be done” please realize that most doctors can only offer what they’ve been taught, which usually stops at medicine or surgery. With the advancement of technology and new medical studies, there are still options to help you get results without the use of medications or surgery.
Will New Treatments Be Covered By My Insurance?
People who are at the later stages of peripheral neuropathy often start having numb feet and begin losing their balance. This leads to more falls, prematurely putting people in the assisted living facilities and nursing homes which average anywhere from $54K – 120K/year out of pocket. Not to mention, the quality of life typically decreases.
However, technology has changed so rapidly over the past few decades and only continues to get better. New technologies and therapies may reverse nerve damage, if caught early enough, save you from losing your ability to walk, prevent you from a life-altering fall, or delay any premature loss of independence, but when it comes to peripheral neuropathy, insurance companies deem it as elective and not medically necessary with any treatment beyond medication and surgery.
Don’t be surprised if finding relief means paying out of pocket. The benefits you gain from healing your nerves such as increasing your ability to walk, play with your family, enjoy hobbies, and increase your independence will far outweigh the cost if it is within your means.
We know peripheral neuropathy is painful and disruptive, but you can prevent or mitigate it. With early detection and decisive action, nerve damage can be reversed. Do not give up your quality of life if your doctor runs out of treatment options. Improvement is possible for many people.
DISCLAIMER: THIS ARTICLE DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE
The information, including but not limited to, texts, graphics, images, and other material contained in this article are for informational purposes only. None of the material mentioned is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.