You may not think much about your peripheral nerves but they are there, busy carrying signals to and from your brain and spinal cord to the rest of your body. This communication system is surprisingly complex. Just to move a muscle, for example, your brain sends a signal to your spinal cord. Once the signal reaches the spinal cord, it’s picked up by a motor neuron. The neuron then sends the signal along to an axon. The axon ends where your muscle begins and the signal to flex is finally received.
Some of these motor and sensory nerves can be damaged by disease, injury, nutritional deficiencies, or toxins. When this happens, peripheral neuropathy is the result.
In effect, your nerves aren’t working properly and signals aren’t being sent. You may feel weak and uncoordinated. The condition usually causes tingling or numbness in the nerves which can be accompanied by painful episodes. Because peripheral neuropathy can span the length and width of the body, it’s often misdiagnosed and treated as a symptom of another health condition. Thirty percent of all cases of peripheral neuropathy are caused by high blood sugar levels associated with diabetes.
Peripheral neuropathy affects nearly 20 million Americans and yet the condition has remained difficult to diagnose and treat. It can be misdiagnosed—which is why one of the reasons this week is dedicated to National Neuropathy Awareness Week: to help educate the public on this serious illness.
Although medical experts say that most cases of peripheral neuropathy can’t be cured, there are treatments that could significantly reduce symptoms.
One such alternative treatment is acupuncture. In a clinical trial performed last year, researchers at the HanseMerkur Centre for traditional Chinese medicine in Hamburg, Germany, tested acupuncture in six patients with chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). This form of neuropathy often makes cancer patients reject chemo because the resulting neurological changes and pain symptoms are too severe. However, stopping chemo can put patients’ lives in jeopardy.
The researchers assigned the six patients to undergo 10 weeks of acupuncture treatment, along with their regular medical care. Another five patients acted as control and received only their usual medical care. In all but one of the six patients, neuropathy symptoms improved. In the control group, only one patient showed improvement.
In another clinical trial, researchers at the University of Texas tested if electrical stimulation was useful in the treatment of neuropathy. Electrical stimulation involves the use of an electrical current which is applied directly to muscles or nerves. It has been used to help restore physical function in people with disabilities. However, this particular treatment was unique in that it combined voluntary breathing with electrical stimulation. The idea is that the electrical current should reach the treatment site just as a breath taken in reaches its maximum. Combining the two is thought to enhance the benefits of electrical stimulation. The procedure showed excellent clinical results.
One more clinical trial tried to determine which was better for the management of peripheral neuropathy: weight bearing exercise or non-weight bearing exercise. This study, conducted at Washington University School of Medicine, consisted of two interventions. Patients with diabetic peripheral neuropathy were assigned to perform strengthening and aerobic exercises sitting or standing and walking (the weight-bearing portion of the study). The weight bearing group performed better in a six-minute walk test and an average daily step test.
This difficult illness doesn’t have to control your life. There are treatments you should try, such as the complementary and alternative medicine treatments we’ve mentioned here. It can make a big difference in your life.
Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Schroeder, S., et al., “Acupuncture for chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN): a pilot study using neurography,” Acupunct Med. March 2012; 30(1): 4-7.
Li, S., et al., “Breathing-controlled Electrical Stimulation (BreEStim) for management of neuropathic pain and spasticity,” J Vis Exp. January 10, 2013; (71): e50077.
Mueller, M.J., et al., “Weight-bearing versus nonweight-bearing exercise for persons with diabetes and peripheral neuropathy: a randomized controlled trial,” Arch Phys Med Rehabil. May 2013; 94(5): 829-38.