We have talked in the past about the the central nervous system in “You’ve got a Nerve”. In that blog we touched briefly on the Autonomic and Peripheral Nervous Systems. Sometimes, one or more of the nerves in the Peripheral Nervous System are damaged, and this condition is known as Peripheral Neuropathy. There are many potential causes, and the symptoms vary depending on the location and number of nerves affected.
Peripheral Neuropathy is the result of damage to your peripheral nerves and can affect one nerve (mononeuropathy), multiple nerves in more than one location (multiple mononeuropathy) or many nerves (polyneuropathy). Generally, it is the hands and feet that are affected by this condition.
There are a wide range of possible causes for Peripheral Neuropathy. Damage to the nerves may be caused by trauma such as an accident or injury, by pressure such as wearing a cast or brace, or by repetitive activities such as typing.
Environmental factors may include exposure to toxic substances like heavy metals, alcoholism, and vitamin deficiencies, particularly vitamins B, E and Niacin. Some medications – like chemotherapy – can also cause peripheral neuropathy.
Infections, tumors, bone marrow disorders and a range of auto-immune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis can also be responsible. Inherited disorders such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease are also linked to peripheral neuropathy Perhaps the single most common cause of peripheral neuropathy is Diabetes.
Every nerve in your body has a specific function, so symptoms will be dependent upon which nerves are affected. In the hands and feet, these are likely to be the sensor nerves (feeling temperature, pain and touch) and the motor nerves (controlling muscle movement). Symptoms might include:
- numbness or tingling in your hands and feet, even spreading up your arms and legs
- Extreme sensitivity to touch
- Pain – which may be burning, freezing, sharp, throbbing or jabbing
- Lack of co-ordination – falling, difficulty in picking things up
- Weakness – lack of strength in feet and hands
When Peripheral Neuropathy is present, complications can arise from the lack of strength and sensation in your hands and feet:
- You may not feel injuries like burns or cuts. This can lead to infections, particularly in your feet where you may not see them.
- You may have trouble with your balance if you do not have good feeling in your feet, particularly on uneven ground. You may even have trouble driving, as your sensitivity to the accelerator and the brake may be limited.
- Weakness in your hands may cause clumsiness, affecting your fine motor skills and reducing your ability to lift anything with weight, like a kettle or saucepan.
Initially, it is important to address the underlying cause of potential Peripheral Neuropathy before it begins to affect your nerves if at all possible. Managing conditions like Diabetes will help reduce the likelihood of developing this condition.
Maintaining a healthy diet, avoiding smoking and alcohol and getting sufficient exercise will all help in both managing the underlying condition and reducing the impact of Peripheral Neuropathy.
Treatment options to manage the symptoms may include using a TENS Machine (Transcutaneous Nerve Stimulation), casts, splints or orthotics, acupuncture, massage and chiropractic treatment.
If Peripheral Neuropathy is affecting your feet and legs, it is vital to make regular visits to a Podiatrist who will help you manage any motor issues and ensure your feet are free of secondary injuries and infections.
If you have been experiencing any numbness, tingling, pain or weakness and your hands, feet, arms or legs call our Baulkham Hills Clinic today on 9639 7337 to make an appointment to discuss your symptoms and treatment.