Understanding Peripheral Neuropathy

This month is National Diabetes Awareness Month, so we’re taking a look at a related condition—peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that develops as a result of damage to the peripheral nervous system—the vast communications network that transmits information between the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and every other part of the body.

Approximately 20 million people in the United States have some form of peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy is not only a result of diabetes, but it can also result from injuries, infections, chronic medical conditions, exposure to toxins, endocrine disorders that lead to hormonal imbalances, and heavy alcohol consumption, among other things.

Diabetes and Peripheral Neuropathy

As the leading cause of peripheral neuropathy, diabetes mellitus is caused by chronically high blood glucose levels. Nearly 70 percent of people suffering from diabetes have mild to severe forms of nervous system damage. This damage can affect sensory, motor, and autonomic nerves, and typically results in varied symptoms.

When diabetic neuropathy occurs, typically the first nerve fibers to malfunction are the ones that travel the furthest from the brain and the spinal cord. Pain and numbness often are felt symmetrically in both feet followed by a gradual progression up both legs. Later, the fingers, hands, and arms may become affected.

Along with pins, needles, and burning and stabbing pain sensations, numbness is a troubling symptom of nerve damage due to diabetes. People who lose sensation are the ones most likely to get ulcers on their feet and to end up needing amputations.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy may depend on the kind of peripheral nerves that have been damaged. There are three types of peripheral nerves: motor, sensory and autonomic. Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy often include:

  • A sensation of wearing an invisible “glove” or “sock”
  • Burning sensation or freezing pain
  • Sharp, jabbing, shooting, or electric-like pain
  • Extreme sensitivity to touch
  • Difficulty sleeping because of feet and leg pain
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle cramping/twitching
  • Difficulty walking or moving the arms
  • Unusual sweating
  • Abnormalities in blood pressure or pulse

Diagnosing Neuropathy

There are over 100 types of neuropathy, so finding the proper diagnosis may require several steps. An exam will involve taking a complete patient history; checking tendon reflexes, muscle tone, motor function and the sense of touch; collecting urine and blood specimens to screen for metabolic or autoimmune disorders; and tests to determine the nature and extent of nerve damage.

In addition to clinical examination, other important tests may include nerve conduction velocity testing to see how fast electrical signals move; and electromyography, which measures the motor unit potentials of muscles during contraction and any abnormal potentials at rest. In some cases, a biopsy may also be ordered to inspect the extent of nerve damage.

Treatment Options in Florham Park

At Total Health, we offer effective, non-surgical treatment protocols including acupuncture, chiropractic care, class IV deep tissue laser, neurolumen, and physical therapy. While there is no cure for neuropathy, gradual relief from painful symptoms is possible with proper treatment. Call our advanced medical center today at (973)377-6327 for a free consultation.