Peripheral Neuropathy Therapy
If you have nerve damage, you may benefit from therapies that help reduce pain and other symptoms. These include:
Your doctor might order blood tests to detect diabetes, liver or kidney issues, vitamin deficiencies, autoimmune disorders, or other conditions that can cause neuropathy. You might also get a spinal tap to check for infections and inflammation that could be causing your pain.
Your central nervous system (your brain and spinal cord) relays information from your senses to the rest of your body, including your hands, feet, internal organs and skin. Your peripheral nerves are outside of the protection of your skull and spine, so they are more vulnerable to damage. Peripheral neuropathy can cause the loss of nerve connections that lead to a variety of symptoms.
Your doctor will take a medical history and do a physical examination, focusing on the areas of discomfort. Other tests may include electrodiagnostic testing, such as nerve conduction studies or electromyography, where small needles are inserted into muscles to measure how they function and see if the signals are moving properly.
Your doctor will also order blood and other body fluid tests to check for diabetes, toxins, vitamin deficiencies, liver or kidney disease and hereditary disorders that can cause neuropathy. In addition, nerve biopsies are sometimes used to confirm the type of neuropathy and determine its severity.
Some medications can help treat the pain of peripheral neuropathy. These include antidepressants, such as amitriptyline (Elavil) and duloxetine (Cymbalta). They block nerves from transmitting painful signals to the brain. Medications that interfere with the action of certain enzymes, such as those used in some anticonvulsants, can also reduce pain.
Other medicines can cause neuropathy therapy if they affect how your body uses sugar or if they damage your nervous system. Blood tests can show if you have diabetes or other conditions that can lead to nerve damage, such as kidney or liver disease, vitamin deficiencies, infections, or autoimmune disorders.
Some doctors recommend that you use TENS therapy to ease pain. It involves using small electrodes that deliver a gentle electrical current. Some researchers believe this may help restore the balance of chemical messengers in your brain that signal pain. You can buy these devices in drug stores and some pharmacies. They come in a variety of sizes and strengths to cover your whole body or just the feet or hands.
TENS is used to treat neuropathic pain, which can be caused by direct nerve injury or diseases like diabetes and shingles. It uses electrodes placed on the skin to send mild electrical impulses that block the transmission of painful signals from the brain. It’s an effective treatment for neuropathic pain that can be combined with other therapies. It also has fewer side effects than prescription pain medications, such as drowsiness and addiction.
Studies of TENS for neuropathic pain vary widely in terms of how they report and measure outcomes. For example, some studies present pain intensity data as changes from baseline, which can affect the magnitude of an effect and is difficult to interpret. Others present results from individual participants with prespecified assessment times, which can introduce bias into the conclusions (Cakici 2016).
Some studies have shown that TENS reduces pain after surgery, especially heart surgery or hysterectomy. Other research shows that it helps with pain from diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and phantom limb pain. However, it’s not suitable for pregnant women or people with a pacemaker.
The brain and spinal cord are part of the central nervous system, but peripheral nerves, which send signals to muscles, skin, internal organs and glands, also play a role. Peripheral neuropathies can be caused by a wide variety of conditions, including diabetes and kidney disease. Other causes include shingles, complications of some types of cancer, alcoholism, exposure to certain toxins and genetic predisposition.
Some mind-body techniques, such as relaxation therapy and hypnosis, can help to reduce the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. However, more research is needed to understand how these therapies work.
Mind-body medicine focuses on the ways in which emotional, mental, social and spiritual factors can directly affect health. It includes practices such as stress management, coping skills training, psychotherapy and group support, acupuncture, yoga, biofeedback, meditation and tai chi. It views illness as a powerful catalyst for personal growth and transformation and promotes the use of mind-body techniques to improve quality of life.