It is extremely easy to take walking for granted. It is such a basic human ability that we casually overlook it. However, it is only when walking starts to feel weird that we really start to value it and realize how crucial it is to our day-to-day lives. Maybe you are experiencing strange symptoms that make walking a hassle. Symptoms such as tingling or it feels like you are walking on pins and needles with every step you take. If you are experiencing symptoms such as these you may have neuropathy in your feet.
Neuropathy, a common condition seen among older people, is damage or dysfunction to one singular nerve (mononeuropathy) or multiple nerves (polyneuropathy). This disrupts the way the neurons communicate with each other and with the brain and typically results in symptoms that can affect your daily activities.
Neuropathies commonly start in your hands and feet, but other parts of your body can be affected too. Neuropathy, or peripheral neuropathy, as the name suggests indicates a problem within the peripheral nervous system.
Your peripheral nervous system is the network of nerves outside your brain and spinal cord. Your brain and spinal cord make up your central nervous system. Think of the two systems working together this way: Your central nervous system is the central station. It is the control center, the hub from which all trains come and go. Your peripheral nervous system serves as the track that connects to the central station. The tracks (the network of nerves) allow the trains (information signals) to travel to and from the central station (your brain and spinal cord).
Now having a better understanding of neuropathy, consider the following types of nerves that make up the nervous system:
Sensory nerves carry messages from your five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch) through your spinal cord to your brain. For example, a sensory nerve would communicate to your brain information about objects you hold in your hand, like pain, temperature, and texture.
Motor nerves travel in the opposite direction of sensory nerves. They carry messages from your brain to your muscles. They tell your muscles how and when to contract to produce movement. For example, to move your hand away from something hot.
Autonomic nerves are responsible for body functions that occur outside of your direct control, such as breathing, digestion, heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, bladder control, and sexual arousal. The autonomic nerves are constantly monitoring and responding to external stresses and bodily needs. For instance, when you exercise, your body temperatures increases. The autonomic nervous system triggers sweating to prevent your body’s temperature from rising too high.
All these nerves work together in conjunction and help us perform a majority of our daily tasks. Consider the fact that we use our legs and feet every day. The number of nerve signals sent between our feet and brain is immeasurable, so when one or more nerves are damaged, it can be seriously debilitating if it is not treated in time. Symptoms generally include:
> Tingling (“pins and needles”) or numbness
> Sharp, burning, throbbing, stabbing, or electric-like pain.
> Changes in sensation. Severe pain, especially at night. Inability to feel pain, pressure, temperature, or touch. Extreme sensitivity to touch.
> Falling, loss of coordination.
> Not being able to feel things in your feet – feeling like you’re wearing socks or gloves when you’re not.
> Muscle weakness, difficulty walking or moving your arms or legs.
> Muscle twitching, cramps, and/or spasms.
> Inability to move a part of the body (paralysis). Loss of muscle control, loss of muscle tone, or dropping things out of your hand.
> Sweating too much or not enough in relation to the temperature or degree or exertion.
When these symptoms affect the legs and feet it can make it very difficult to walk with ease.
Since Neuropathy is a fairly common condition, there are a number of different treatment options for neuropathy.
1. Medical treatments can be used to control the symptoms of this condition. Plasmapheresis is a blood transfusion that removes potentially irritating antibodies from your bloodstream.
If you get a nerve block, your doctor will inject an anesthetic directly into your nerves.
2. Ergonomic casts or splints can help you if your neuropathy affects your muscles. Splints can help with:
> Muscle weakness
These casts provide support for the part of your body that’s uncomfortable. This can relieve pain. For example, a cast or splint that holds your wrists in a proper position while you sleep can relieve the discomfort of carpal tunnel syndrome.
3. Self-care is another thing to consider when treating neuropathy. In addition to OTC pain relievers, many people have found relief for neuropathy through:
> Have a foot bath with chamomile or nettle leaves for at least 30 minutes.
> Use a heating pad or electric socks.
> Apply an ice pack to affected areas for 10 minutes twice daily in the morning and the evening.
> Try acupuncture.
> Try different types of holistic therapy such as reflexology, tai chi, or reiki.
> Massage affected areas to promote circulation.
> Avoid pressure on the affected area.
> Set priorities daily and do only what you are capable of doing.
> Avoid caffeine and develop a regular bedtime routine to promote sleep.
> Moderate, regular exercise can also help lessen discomfort.
If you drink alcohol or smoke, consider cutting back or stopping. Both alcohol and tobacco aggravate nerve pain and can cause nerve damage when used for long periods.
4. Taking precautions at home should also be a priority when it comes to treating neuropathy since you’re potentially at greater risk for accidents in the home. You can do the following to improve your safety:
> Use safety guards and other tools for sharp objects like scissors and knives.
> Use thermometers to measure the temperature of bath or tap water.
> Use potholders and gloves when handling hot items.
> Use a walker or cane for added stability.
> Install nightlights to avoid tripping in the dark.
> Carefully wrap your hands and feet when it’s cold out.
Neuropathies can be concerning but worry not, here at Integrated Pain Management we are dedicated to helping you. When treating neuropathy we consider any underlying causes, including injury, systemic illness, and medications, which can keep neuropathy from progressing. We can help you develop a treatment plan that fits your needs, taking into consideration your daily activities, medical history, and specific symptoms.
Contact us today!