Peripheral nerves are responsible for sending sensory messages to the central nervous system, such as the message that your feet are cold or something you touched was hot. The central nervous system uses the peripheral nervous system to carry signals to the body’s extremities. For example, you want to raise your arm to wave, so your central nervous system sends a message to your peripheral nervous system to contract the muscles in your arm. However, there are many messages you aren’t aware of being transmitted constantly– your heartbeat and digestion are also controlled by the messages coming from your central nervous system. You can think of your nervous system as a computer network. If one cable is unplugged, the entire system can experience problems.
The pain, numbness, and loss of sensation associated with peripheral neuropathy can have many causes but are all marked by damage to the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system is a network of nerves that transmits information from your brain and spinal cord, also known as your central nervous system, to the rest of your body and back. Some people inherit peripheral neuropathy from their parents, and others develop it later in life due to an injury, infection, or metabolic disorder. Certain conditions can lead to neuropathy, such as diabetes.
Disruption of nervous system signaling can happen in three different ways. You can experience a total loss of nerve signals, inappropriate timing of nerve signaling, or distorted nerve signaling.
What Are the Symptoms of Neuropathy?
Over 20 million people in the U.S. are estimated to have some form of neuropathy, but the exact number is unknown. Neuropathy is often misdiagnosed because it carries a wide range of symptoms that can be attributed to other ailments.
The symptoms of neuropathy are often related to the type of nerve and the severity of the damage. Motor nerve damage is usually associated with muscle weakness. Sensory nerve damage can cause various symptoms because sensory nerves have a broader range of functions. Autonomic nerve damage can cause excessive sweating, intolerance to heat, and inability to regulate blood pressure or gastrointestinal symptoms.
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you may be experiencing neuropathy:
- Numbness, prickling, or tingling in hands or feet.
- A sharp, throbbing, or burning sensation.
- Extreme sensitivity to touch.
- Lack of coordination.
- Pain during activities that should cause pain, such as pain in your feet upon standing.
What Are the Causes of Neuropathy?
Most people who have neuropathy were not born with the condition. Some of the most common reasons a person develops neuropathy include the following:
- A physical injury from a car accident, fall, sports injury, or any other type of physical injury can cause nerve damage.
- A result of diabetes. Diabetes can cause people to experience mild and severe nerve damage that can cause numbness or weakness in some body regions.
- Vascular or blood problems that result from diabetes, smoking, or atherosclerosis.
- Certain autoimmune diseases, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
- Certain cancers and benign tumors.
- Chemotherapy drugs.
- Infections. Viruses that cause chickenpox, shingles, and HIV can damage the central nervous system and cause neuropathic symptoms.
- Nutritional or vitamin imbalances, such as Vitamins B-12 and B-6 deficiencies.
- Exposure to toxins.
What Are the Treatments for Neuropathy?
The treatments available for neuropathy will depend on the type and location of the nerve damage and the symptoms you experience. Your doctor will explain how addressing the neuropathy’s causes is the best way to treat it because your nerves will recover and regenerate independently. Your doctor may suggest certain lifestyle changes, such as achieving a healthy weight, maintaining optimal nutrition, avoiding toxic exposures, quitting smoking, and correcting vitamin deficiencies.
Mechanical aids, such as braces or orthopedic shoes, can help to improve walking and prevent foot injuries. Medications are recommended for people who experience chronic pain due to neuropathy. Drugs used to treat depression, such as SSRIs, are often prescribed, and drugs that help with nerve cell signaling, such as those used for epilepsy.
Is There a Natural Treatment for Neuropathy?
Treatment for neuropathy symptoms depends entirely on the cause and usually focuses on reducing the pain and discomfort related to nerve damage. Physical therapy, surgery, and injections for increased nerve pressure are also available. Many wonder if natural treatments are available to help manage the symptoms of neuropathy and address the underlying cause.
The most effective way to treat the cause of neuropathy naturally is to address the lifestyle factors contributing to neuropathic pain. Regular exercise, eating a nutritious diet, and abstaining from smoking and drinking alcohol can allow your nerves to repair themselves, decreasing the pain you are feeling.
Herbal supplements can also be used to remedy neuropathy naturally. However, remember that dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA, meaning that any brand can claim its products are safe and effective. There is no substitute for the medical advice of your podiatrist or General Practitioner, and you should always seek their approval before starting any new medication.
Many herbal supplements claim that their combination of vitamins, minerals, and herbs can positively affect nerve health. Some of the most common substances used in these supplements are:
- Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), an antioxidant that protects your cells from oxidative stress.
- B-Vitamins, such as Vitamin B-1, B-2, B-6, and B-12, are necessary for a healthy central nervous system. A deficiency in these vitamins can lead to neuropathy. Treatment that includes the correct amount of daily B vitamins has been shown to reduce some symptoms associated with neuropathy, particularly the “pins and needles” some patients experience.
- Acetyl-L-Carnitine is an amino acid the body produces to turn fat into energy. This substance has been found helpful in reducing nerve pain.
- Glutamine is also an amino acid shown to reduce neuropathy symptoms due to chemotherapy.
- Magnesium is a critical mineral that is beneficial in reducing neuropathy pain for diabetes patients.
Talk to a Salt Lake City Podiatrist About Foot Pain Associated With Neuropathy
While natural remedies may have some success in relieving pain associated with neuropathy, you should consult with your doctor before starting any new treatment method.
Dr. Elizabeth Auger is a foot and ankle specialist in Salt Lake City that can help treat the pain you are experiencing associated with neuropathy. She has over 20 years of experience helping patients achieve their wellness goals through holistic, patient-centered care. If you are in pain due to neuropathy caused by diabetes or any other condition, contact Dr. Auger today for an evaluation of your condition and a treatment plan tailored specifically to you.