Your body has two different systems by which neurons (nerve cells) communicate with each other: the central nervous system and the peripheral. The central nervous system consists of your brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system includes the rest of the nerves auxiliary to that core.
Peripheral neuropathy refers to the dysfunction of the peripheral nervous system. In cases of neuropathy, neurons are damaged and cannot communicate with each other. It is very common and can result in numbness and tingling or even pain, especially in the hands and feet. Though older populations are more at risk, anyone can develop neuropathy. The exact symptoms experienced depend on which kind of cells sustain harm and the cause of the damage.
The kind of neuropathy is distinguished by how many nerves are rendered dysfunctional. When one nerve or nerve type is damaged, it is called mononeuropathy. Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common example. In cases of multifocal neuropathy, two or more nerves are affected in different areas. Polyneuropathy, the most common form of neuropathy, results when many nerves are injured. Most cases of polyneuropathy are “length-dependent,” which means that symptoms in the feet, the nerve endings furthest away, are more severe. There are many causes for any of these types of neuropathy:
Diabetes. Diabetes is a leading cause in the United States. More than half of diabetes cases result in some kind of neuropathy.
Autoimmune diseases. Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and Guillain-Barre syndrome may all lead to neuropathy, resulting in numbness and tingling in extremities.
Infections. Infections such as shingles, Lyme disease, diphtheria, hepatitis B and C, HIV have been known to cause nerve damage.
Tumors. Tumors and other growths can put pressure on nerves and cause damage.
Hereditary disease. While hereditary neuropathy is not common, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is the most frequent manifestation of it.
Vascular diseases. Limited access to oxygen in the blood can starve neurons of oxygen, resulting in damage or nerve cell death. Blood clots, smoking, and vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels) are all potential causes.
Other diseases. Diseases of the liver or kidney or hypothyroidism can lead to nerve strain.
Vitamin deficiencies. Insufficient levels of niacin and vitamins E and B1, B6, B12 can precipitate neuron death.
Alcoholism. Heavy alcohol use introduces toxins in the blood and catalyzes vitamin deficiencies.
Medications. Chemotherapy is a leading cause of neuropathy.
Physical trauma. Injury or agitating movement can strain nerves inordinately.
The neuropathy symptoms experienced are determined by which nerves are damaged. Sensory nerves receive sensory information (taste, smell, touch, etc.) and send that information to the brain. Motor nerves send instructions from the central nervous system to the muscles and control movement. Autonomic nerves control the functions that should be, as their name implies, automatic. These act without thought, per se, and respond to bodily stresses as they arise, i.e. initiating digestion at the introduction of food or sweating when your body temperature increases during exercise.
If the problem lies chiefly in sensory nerves, patients may experience numbness and tingling, stabbing or burning pain, or extreme sensitivity to touch. Some people feel like their nerves are being smothered. Motor nerve damage often results in weakness or lack of coordination. Digestion and circulation can be affected if damage to the autonomic nerves is sustained. Loss of feeling in peripheral nerves can result in other injuries, such as burning one’s hands or unnoticed infection worsening. Loss of balance can lead to falling.
Treatment of neuropathy means first treating the underlying cause. If applied pressure is the root of the problem, chiropractic care can quell inflammation and relieve pressure on strained or damaged nerves. However, not all types of neuropathy can be cured. In such cases, chiropractic care can still help to correct subluxations and mitigate pain. The goal of chiropractic treatment is to allow the body to perform optimally, not just mask the pain as medication does. Here at Rock Creek Spine & Rehabilitation in Broomfield, CO, we are committed to easing you through your neuropathy. Give us a call today.