Neuropathy is damage to the nerves causing nerve pain. It can be caused by diabetes, chemotherapy or is idiopathic (no known cause). Most neuropathy pain is in the hands and feet, but other areas can be affected. Symptoms typically include numb feeling, tingling, pins and needles and general discomfort and pain.
Some people with neuropathy have no symptoms at all, but the disease is discovered by chance during a medical visit. Many people have symptoms including numb feeling, tingling, extreme sensitivity to touch, muscle weakness, pins and needles and general discomfort and pain (often described as stabbing or burning pain). The problems are usually in the hands and or feet and can radiate up the limbs. Around 50% of people with neuropathy have substantial pain, which is often worse at night and plays havoc with their sleep. Longer term the numbness can increase the risk of falls, make it difficult to walk, make it difficult to detect injures to the hands and feet, lead to deformities (due to weakness), muscle atrophy and even foot ulcers.
Causes of Neuropathy in Western Medicine
Whilst there are a range of causes of neuropathy, these following are amongst the main ones:
Diabetic neuropathy – high blood glucose and lipid levels and the toxic by-products produced are believed to be the cause. Smoking, high blood pressure and obesity tend to make things worse.
Chemotherapy neuropathy – exposure to toxins.
Idiopathic neuropathy – no known cause.
Western Medicine Treatment
There is no specific cure. Most Western medical treatment centres around drug therapy by using antidepressants, anti-epileptics or if these fail opioids (can lead to dependence) in an attempt to control the pain. Also used are increased awareness of the limbs involved to avoid injuries, better hygiene, correct foot ware, etc… Whilst these measures can be helpful, none of them address the key cause from a Chinese medicine perspective. Although it may be a good idea for you to get scans to rule out herniated discs, tumours or other abnormalities.
Chinese Medicine Treatment
The reason for neuropathy in Chinese medicine is poor blood flow and nutrient supply to the affected areas. This is in large part a neurological problem where the central brain is no longer doing its job. Chinese herbs increase the blood flow systemically and acupuncture reprograms the brain to do its job (that is to increase blood flow to the affected area which naturally delivers what is required to repair the area and reduce pain and symptoms).
Our experience of the effectiveness of treatments is 80% for diabetic neuropathy, 50% for idiopathic neuropathy and 0% for chemothery neuropathy (we have not had any success with chemotherapy-induce neuropathy).
What Should You Do Next?
Book in for an initial appointment. We will diagnose you fully and also treat you with acupuncture. The style of acupuncture we use means that in many cases we are able to get rid of your pain immediately (although a series of treatments will be required to keep the pain away). If we can do this while you are here at your first appointment, it means what we do will work for you and you can confidently continue with treatment. If we cannot substantially reduce your pain at your first treatment, then what we do may not work for you (that said we are able to help over 80% of people we see) and all it has cost you to find out is one appointment.
If your neuropathy is really bothering you and affecting your life, book in for an initial appointment. You will soon know if we can help you or not and be on your way to feeling much better and getting on with your life.
If you have general muscle or joint pain then also see fibromyalgia.