Why Peripheral Neuropathy Causes Muscle Weakness and Loss of Balance

If you have peripheral neuropathy, chances are your provider has stressed the necessity of exercise to minimize its effects. You’re working out, eating healthy, and following all of your doctor’s advice, but you still feel weak and have a tendency to lose your balance. Why?

Types of Nerves

To understand how neuropathy causes muscle weakness, you need to understand your body’s different kinds of nerves.

  • Sensory: Sensory nerves help you experience the world around you. With the help of these nerves, you feel the warmth of the sun, the softness of a puppy’s fur, the pain of a burn, and the chill of snow on your face. These nerves send sensory signals to your brain, where the brain can determine if you need to act. For example, if you set your hand on a hot stovetop, your brain orders your hand to jerk away from the heat almost before you recognize you’ve been burned.
  • Motor: Motor nerves help your body move. Say you want to sit. Your brain tells your leg muscles to bend and directs your trunk to lean forward to maintain balance. Sensory nerves tell your brain when your seat touches the chair and if you need to adjust your position. The motor nerves direct adjustments to your limbs and torso until you’re sitting upright in the chair. Or, as in the sensory nerve example, when the brain determined you needed to remove your hand from the source of heat, it took information from the sensory nerve (that you were burning) and ordered your motor nerves to protect you by jerking your hand away from the burner.
  • Autonomic: Autonomic nerves keep your internal organs running automatically. You don’t have to direct your stomach and intestines to digest and absorb food nutrients. These nerves conduct business based on internal cues, like introducing food to the system. They keep your heart beating and your lungs breathing.

Peripheral Nerves

All three types of nerves exist in many areas of the body. Nerves in the brain and spinal cord are part of the central nervous system. Nerves located outside this central hub are part of the peripheral nervous system. This is where peripheral neuropathy occurs.

Peripheral neuropathy generally isn’t choosy about which type of nerves it affects. Motor and sensory nerves work alongside one another. When one is injured, chances are that others in the vicinity will also be injured. It most commonly affects the nerves in the hands and feet but may spread to affect the legs, arms, and other parts of the body.

How Nerve Damage Affects Muscle Strength and Balance

  • Sensory: When sensory nerves get damaged, they send corrupted signals to the brain. The confused signal can be interpreted as tingling, burning, itching, stabbing, pressure, or numbness. Numbness or pain in the feet can make it difficult for you to feel the floor or objects in your path. You may be more likely to trip and slower to catch your fall.
  • Motor: When motor nerves get damaged, it can cause parts of your muscle to go dormant. They won’t contract or release. Without regular use they may atrophy. Instead of a bundle of muscle fibers that work together, you have some muscle fibers working to carry the whole load while others don’t work at all. Over time you become weaker.
  • Autonomic: Autonomic nerves regulate your blood pressure when you sit or stand. If they aren’t working properly, you can get dizzy upon standing, which affects your balance. These nerves also help your inner ear process your positional awareness. As you move your head, fluid in three rings connected to the inner ear shifts, telling the brain if your head is straight, tilted, or turned. When the nerves that transmit that data are damaged, it can make it difficult for your body to know what’s up or down. You can experience vertigo and lose your balance.

Is Peripheral Neuropathy Curable?

It depends on how long the damage continues, the underlying cause, and what treatment you receive. If the underlying cause is cured quickly, you can see a full reversal of symptoms. The key is to seek treatment from your provider as soon as possible. Doctors who specialize in peripheral neuropathy can help you stimulate the nerves and improve nerve conductivity and regeneration. It takes time for nerves to heal, but given the proper conditions, you can see marked improvement in your symptoms, experience neuropathy pain relief, and reduce your chances of experiencing a nasty fall.

Don’t Give Up

While peripheral neuropathy can cause balance issues and muscle weakness, these don’t have to be permanent conditions. Even if you can’t remove the source of damage, as may be the case if you are receiving chemotherapy or have an autoimmune condition, your provider can help you manage your symptoms and find relief.


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 healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new care regimen. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.

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