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One Bad Nerve - Focal Neuropathy

Neuropathy is not as uncommon as you may think and for the most part, treatment is not difficult to follow. However, this condition can be debilitating if it is left untreated. Focal neuropathy is a type of neuropathy is that only affects one nerve. It can be caused by a number of different reasons. 

At Integrated Pain Management, focal neuropathy is just one of the many conditions we treat. We believe patient education is just as important as diagnosis and treatment. If you have focal neuropathy, read through this guide for a better understanding of the condition, including common forms of focal neuropathy, causes and treatment options. 

Overview

As stated previously, focal neuropathy is a form of neuropathy that affects a single nerve. This form of neuropathy often occurs in the hand, head, torso, or leg but is not as common as peripheral or autonomic neuropathy.

There may or may not be pain, followed by loss of sensation, strength, and overall function, depending on the type. These types of neuropathies are typically due to injury, compression, aging, inflammatory disorders, or other systemic diseases.

Focal neuropathy can develop if there has been a prolonged period of swelling or pressure placed on a specific point in the body such as the hands, feet, or face. It can also develop over time due to high blood sugar or high levels of fats, such as triglycerides, in the blood from diabetes which damages the nerves and the small blood vessels that nourish your nerves. Symptoms include loss of feeling, tingling, burning, muscle weakness, and paralysis. 

Read through the following examples of focal neuropathy to learn more.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common focal neuropathy and is caused by entrapment of the median nerve in the carpal tunnel at the wrist. It is a slowly progressive condition causing tingling, numbness, and pain in the hand and fingers (possibly sparing the pinky finger), with weakness and wasting of muscle at the base of the thumb. It is diagnosed based on clinical information (history and physical examination) and confirmed by electrodiagnostic tests (EDx) consisting of nerve conduction studies (NCS) and electromyography (EMG).

Ulnar Neuropathy

Ulnar neuropathy is the second most common entrapment neuropathy and most commonly occurs at the elbow. It presents with weakness of the hand, along with tingling, numbness, and pain in the inner side of the hand and fingers (half of ring finger and pinky). It is often triggered by irritation of the “funny bone” where the nerve is exposed along the inner aspect of the elbow.  

Entrapments

Entrapments, or entrapment syndromes, are the most common type of focal neuropathy. They occur when nerves become compressed or trapped in areas where nerves pass through narrow passages between bones and tissues. People with diabetes are more likely to have entrapments than people without diabetes.

Other Focal Neuropathies

Other focal neuropathies that do not involve trapped nerves are much less common. These focal neuropathies most often affect older adults. Examples include cranial neuropathies, which affect the nerves of the head. Cranial neuropathies can cause eye problems or problems with the muscles of the face. Symptoms depend on which nerve is affected.

Lifestyle Changes

Living with focal neuropathies can be challenging so it is important to consider implementing certain lifestyle changes in order to keep the condition from progressing. These can include: 

  1. > Losing weight.

  2. > Exercising.

  3. > Monitoring blood sugar levels.

  4. > Not smoking.

  5. > Limiting alcohol.

  6. > Make sure injuries and infections don’t go unnoticed or untreated (this is particularly true for people who have diabetic neuropathies).

  7. > Improving vitamin deficiencies.

  8. > Managing stress and practicing mindfulness.

  9. > Attending physical therapy.

  10. > Wearing orthopedic braces to compensate for weakness and balance loss.

  11. > Make sure your environment includes assistive devices (like canes or walkers) and is well-lit to reduce your fall risk.

Still, the most important thing you can do to slow the progression of neuropathy is to see your doctor and discuss your care plan. Together you can manage symptoms, reduce pain, and get you back to enjoying your life. 

What Are Your Options for Treatment?

Your doctor may treat focal neuropathy pain with the same medicines used to treat peripheral neuropathy pain.To treat a focal neuropathy that involves a trapped nerve, your doctor may recommend: 

  1. > wearing a splint or brace to take pressure off the nerve

  2. > medicines that reduce inflammation

  3. > surgery, if other treatments don’t work

Usually, these forms of treatment are successful but if not, more involved forms of treatment include: 

  1. > Increase Blood Flow – Since damaged blood vessels cannot bring adequate nutrition & oxygen to the nerves, this must be corrected in order for the nerves to heal and function properly.

  2. > Stimulate Nerve Fibers – It’s crucial that once we get more blood to the nerves, to re-educate the nerve back to normal function. Certain devices can be used to repair the damaged nerves, and start to make them healthy once again.

  3. > Physical Therapy – Our approach to physical therapy focuses on stimulating the damaged nerves to reduce pain and improve balance while decreasing brain-based pain.

For focal neuropathies that don’t involve trapped nerves, most people recover within a few weeks or months, even without treatment.

The Team at Integrated Pain Management

Focal neuropathy is just one of many conditions treated at Integrated Pain Management. Our team is dedicated to getting you the quality of life you deserve. We take into consideration all factors of your life to make sure the treatment plan we develop for you suits all your needs. If you are experiencing persistent pain, contact our team today!

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