Learn More About Neuropathy
Neuropathy affects many people due to injuries that include repetitive stress injuries, genetic issues and infections. The pain can often be difficult to describe. Some people experience it as a persistent numbness or itching. Others feel a phantom pain that can't be traced to a specific area of the body. If you are experiencing symptoms of this kind, you may have a condition that falls within the broad category of neuropathy. People who are experiencing these symptoms should seek medical care; the sooner the underlying cause of neuropathy is identified, the less likely the condition is to cause permanent damage. Quicker treatment can also mean quicker relief from these symptoms.
What Is Neuropathy?
Neuropathy, in the simplest terms, means nerve damage. It can affect both the central and the peripheral nervous systems. However, when we talk about neuropathy, we are most often discussing damage to the nerves in the peripheral nervous system. Known as peripheral neuropathy, this painful condition can cause numbness, burning and other unpleasant symptoms. Neuropathy may be caused by physical injuries, infections, inherited disorders, or systemic diseases.
The most common neuropathy symptoms include:
- Tingling or a pins and needles sensation.
- An itching or crawling sensation.
- Weakness or heaviness in the affected limbs.
- Numbness, which may be painful or painless.
- Muscle cramps.
- Twitching muscles.
Types of Pain Caused by Neuropathy
There are three basic types of neuropathy:
- Sensory neuropathy. This sort of nerve damage affects sensation only. People with sensory neuropathy may experience poor coordination, increased or reduced sensitivity to temperature, a spontaneous burning or tingling sensation and numbness to touch or vibration.
- Autonomic neuropathy. This type of neuropathy involves damage to the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is the subconscious system that affects blood flow, perspiration and other automatic functions. Symptoms may include excessive or absent sweating, intolerance for temperatures, shortness of breath, excessive thirst, fatigue, abdominal distension, incontinence and other symptoms.
- Motor neuropathy. This type of neuropathy affects motor function. People with motor neuropathy may experience impaired balance, impaired coordination and weakness.
These three types of neuropathy are further broken down into classifications based on the number of nerves affected. Your doctor will need to correctly classify your neuropathy to tailor a treatment plan. Many instances of neuropathy will have similar presentations.
Two well-known types of neuropathy include carpal tunnel syndrome and diabetic peripheral polyneuropathy. A patient history can give more information about whether you have neuropathy and what type is affecting you. Your doctor will perform a number of tests to evaluate your condition. Your evaluation will include tests of:
- Light touch
- Muscle strength
- Positional sense
In addition to this physical exam, your physician may order blood work to find markers for conditions that may cause neuropathy. An x-ray, MRI or CT scan may also be ordered.
Treatment Options for Neuropathy
Treatment for neuropathy begins with identifying the underlying cause. Once this is identified, treatment of the root cause can often improve your symptoms and prevent your condition from progressing. Once the cause has been established, a treatment plan can be put into place. The sooner a plan is started, the less likely that your symptoms and nerve damage will be permanent. Treatments for the pain of neuropathy include:
- Medication. Tricyclic antidepressants, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) all have strong track records for correcting neuropathic pain. Other patients find relief with anticonvulsants like Lyrica and gabapentin.
- IV Infusion Therapy. In this procedure, your doctor will insert a small IV catheter then infuse medications to halt the pain.
- Sympathetic Nerve Blocks. These are injections which can be used for diagnosing and treating pain. Your sympathetic nervous system will be targeted with a thin needle that is injected with the assistance of radiographic guidance, and a small amount of anesthetic will be injected. Many patients experience dramatic relief from this procedure.
- Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS). SCS involves placing small electrodes into the epidural space around the spine. These electrodes produce small electrical currents that inhibit the transmission of pain. The sensation when the device is on is described as a mild tingling or massage. SCS can also restore healthy blood flow while relieving pain.
- Peripheral Nerve Stimulation. This treatment, which is very similar to SCS, involves placing electrodes by the affected nerves in the extremity where neuropathy is occurring.
- DRG Stimulation. Dorsal Root Ganglion Stimulation provides stimulation specifically to the dorsal root ganglion. This targeted treatment has been effective for people who did not find relief with the use of SCS.
Request a Consultation
At Performance & Regenerative Medicine, our goal is to reduce or eliminate your pain. Do you have symptoms that are consistent with neuropathy or a medical history that makes neuropathy likely? Get in touch today for a consultation.