Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that causes weakness, pain and numbness in your extremities (typically the hands and feet). Your peripheral nerves send messages from your brain and spinal cord to the rest of your body. When those nerves are damaged, these messages are interrupted and affect how your body responds to pain, temperature and other reflexes. It’s often a result of damage to the peripheral nerves. The effects of peripheral neuropathy can develop suddenly or can spread slowly over time. Treatment methods vary depending on the cause of the condition. Many natural and traditional methods focus on alleviating pain symptoms.
Symptoms from peripheral neuropathy depend on the type of nerves damaged. The three types are motor nerves, sensory nerves, and autonomic nerves.
Motor Nerves – Your motor nerves send messages from the brain to the muscles so you can control your movements. If your motor nerves are affected, you may experience symptoms including muscle weakness or atrophy, difficulty moving your arms or legs, muscle spasms or uncontrolled twitching and decreased reflexes.
Sensory Nerves – Sensory nerves send messages from other body parts to the brain and trigger your senses. When you experience a cold sensation or touch something sharp, you are using your sensory nerves. If your peripheral neuropathy affects your sensory nerves, you may experience tingling or numbness, sensitivity to touch, decreased sensation, inability to feel temperature changes or pain with hot or cold and loss of reflexes and coordination.
Autonomic Nerves – These nerves control involuntary and semi-voluntary functions including blood pressure, heart rate, bladder functions, and sweating. If your autonomic nerves are affected from peripheral neuropathy, you may experience symptoms including nausea, vomiting, dizziness while standing or changing position from sitting to standing, excessive sweating, inability to control bowel and bladder functions, irregular heart rate and difficulty swallowing.
Treatment for peripheral neuropathy depends on the cause. Some common treatments involve physical therapy, surgery and injections to decrease nerve pressure. Other treatments focus on reducing pain and discomfort with over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen or aspirin. There are also a number of things you can do to help reduce the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.
1. Quit Smoking – Smoking affects your blood circulation. The blood vessels narrow and less oxygenated blood can get through. Without proper blood circulation, you may experience increased numbness and pain from your peripheral neuropathy. Eliminating smoking habits can help to improve your symptoms. Let this motivate you to make positive changes.
2. Warm Baths – Taking a warm bath can be soothing and can also alleviate pain symptoms from neuropathy. Warm water increases blood circulation throughout the body, decreasing pain symptoms from numbness. If your sensory nerves are affected from peripheral neuropathy and you’re not as sensitive to temperature, be careful not to make your bath water too hot.
3. Exercise – Regular exercise can help to combat pain and improve your overall health. Being active can reduce your blood sugar, which, in turn, can reduce or slow down nerve damage. Exercise also increases blood flow to your arms and legs and reduces stress. These are all factors that help to reduce discomfort and pain.
4. Essential Oils – Some essential oils, including chamomile and Roman lavender, help to increase circulation in the body. They also have pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties that could boost healing. Essential oils (a few drops) need to be diluted in 1 ounce of a carrier oil such as olive oil. Applying these diluted oils to the affected area can reduce stinging and tingling pains from peripheral neuropathy.
5. Meditation – Meditation techniques can help people struggling with neuropathy symptoms live through their pain. It can help to lower stress, improve your coping skills, and decrease your pain intensity. Taking a mind-body approach is a noninvasive technique that provides you with more control over your condition.
6. Cayenne Pepper – Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin, an ingredient in hot peppers that makes them spicy. Capsaicin has been used in topical creams for its pain relief properties. It decreases the intensity of pain signals sent through the body. Incorporating cayenne pepper in your diet or taking a capsaicin supplement can help to reduce neuropathy pain. Topical capsaicin ointments can also be used on the body. Although it may initially burn, continued use will gradually reduce neuropathy sensations. Be sure to discuss this treatment method with your doctor before using it to prevent adverse symptoms.
7. Vitamins – Some cases of peripheral neuropathy are related to vitamin deficiencies. Vitamin B is essential for your nerve health. A deficiency can lead to significant nerve damage. While you can get vitamin B from your meals, your doctor may also recommend taking a supplement. Stick to the recommended dose to prevent toxicity and worsening symptoms. Vitamin D can also help prevent nerve pain. Your skin typically produces vitamin D in response to sunlight. A deficiency can cause neuropathy pain. Taking a supplement can help reduce the symptoms of neuropathy.
8. Photobiomodulation – With neuropathy, the myelin sheath, the protective layer around the nerves, dies without adequate blood supply. Infrared light therapy (aka photobiomodulation) increases blood flow, which provides temporary relief and reduces pain by providing the nerve with the much needed oxygen and nutrients to stay healthy. With diabetic neuropathy, it encourages blood flow to extremities where it is needed most.
9. Acupuncture – Acupuncture promotes natural healing by stimulating the body’s pressure points. This technique triggers the nervous system to release chemicals that can change the pain experience or threshold. Acupuncture helps to provide an energy balance to the body that can affect your emotional well-being.
As with most ailments, prevention works so much better than treatment. Keeping your blood sugars within the normal range will help prevent your neuropathy from worsening. If your neuropathy is related to alcohol intake, stop drinking now to prevent the condition from getting worse. But if the pain has already progressed to chronic neuropathy, incorporating some of the aforementioned holistic treatments can help mediate the problem and maybe even reverse it over time.