Peripheral Neuropathy results from damaged peripheral nerves. Taking the root words of “neuropathy,” we get “neur” and “opathy.” “Neur” refers to the neurons, while “opathy” refers to suffering or disease, meaning peripheral neuropathy is a disease of the peripheral neurons. These peripheral nerves are located outside the brain and spinal cord, making these conditions usually related to issues in the hands and feet. The term “Peripheral Neuropathy” refers to many conditions that can happen from a damaged peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system sends and receives vast amounts of information from the central nervous system. When damaged, the signaling of nerves becomes hindered, leading to a rise in symptoms. The three ways signaling can be disrupted are:
- Errors that distort the message sent
- Loss of signals usually sent
- Inappropriate signaling sent (signals sent when there should not be any sent)
Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy
The symptoms that arise from peripheral neuropathy vary tremendously but most commonly result in pain and tingling in the hands/feet, difficulty with dexterity in the hands, difficulty walking, poor balance, and/or muscular weakness. More specifically, the classification of peripheral nerves needs to be addressed: motor, sensory, and autonomous.
- Motor nerves are used for the conscious control of muscles (grasping things, walking, or talking).
- Sensory nerves are used to transmit information gained through our environment (pain, temperature, or light touch) and send it back to the brain.
- Autonomic nerves are used for the unconscious control of organs and muscles.
Most neuropathies affect all three types of peripheral nerve fibers. However, when a condition affects one type more than another, doctors will use terms such as “Predominantly motor,” “sensory-motor,” and “predominantly autonomic” to further distinguish one disease type from another.
As we now grasp the difference in the nerves, we can understand the potential symptoms of the various peripheral neuropathies. If motor nerves are damaged, the most common symptom is muscular weakness. Muscular cramps and twitching are also common.
If sensory nerves are damaged, the symptoms range widely as sensory nerves have many functions. Damage to these nerve fibers usually leads to numbness and tingling, trouble walking correctly, decreased reaction and reflex time, and disrupted sleep. If autonomic nerves are damaged, the body’s regulatory abilities are affected. Patients tend to experience excess sweating and gastrointestinal problems.
Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy
Many patients suffer from peripheral neuropathy that is either idiopathic or symptomatic.
The leading cause of peripheral neuropathy in the United States is diabetes. According to the National Institute of Health, about 60%-70% of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of peripheral neuropathy. The peripheral neuropathy caused by diabetes is sometimes referred to as diabetic nerve pain, diabetic painful neuropathy, and diabetic neuropathic pain (DNP).
Apart from diabetes, the list of conditions that can cause peripheral Neuropathy is extensive. Some more common examples are trauma, alcohol use, and autoimmune diseases.
Treatments for Peripheral Neuropathy
Treatment varies depending on the type of neuropathy, location, and severity. As stated above, peripheral neuropathy can either be symptomatic or idiopathic, meaning it can either derive from another condition or arise on its own without any known cause.
For Symptomatic Peripheral Neuropathy, treating the condition causing the nerve damage could potentially treat the neuropathy. Suppose the pain persists through the treatment of the underlying condition. In that case, measures can be taken to treat both the neuropathy and the condition causing the neuropathy.
For Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy, treatment would have to be specific to the symptoms. Interventional pain management is regularly used to treat idiopathic peripheral Neuropathy with promising results.
For Diabetic Neuropathy, the most common form of peripheral Neuropathy, nerve stabilizers such as gabapentin and spinal cord stimulation (SCS) are largely beneficial during treatment, as shown by a study conducted by the NIH.
Who Treats Peripheral Neuropathy?
There are a few specialties that are equipped to treat Peripheral Neuropathy. Here at Cantor Spine Center, we have Drs. Giuffrida and Westerhaus focus on treating the symptoms of symptomatic or idiopathic peripheral Neuropathy through minimally-invasive techniques that are shown to give lasting relief.