Any form of nerve damage is a terrifying experience; receiving a neuropathy diagnosis is even more so. You immediately feel like your entire body is shutting down right before your eyes, which often brings in a flood of emotional and mental health symptoms to complement the physical ones you’re already experiencing. The good news is that there are a variety of medical treatments available for neuropathy that’s caused by factors such as diseases, diabetes, infections and vitamin deficiencies. There are also a variety of surgeries that can help relieve the compression of nerves caused by tumors or other conditions1Peripheral neuropathy – Symptoms and causes. (2021). Retrieved 15 February 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/peripheral-neuropathy/symptoms-causes/syc-20352061. However, medications can be expensive, and surgery can be too. That’s also not to mention that medications only mask the symptoms instead of getting to the root cause of the problem, and surgeries can be quite intense and invasive. Fortunately, there are several natural and non-invasive treatments that can help reduce your symptoms and improve your condition, such as treatments like electrical nerve stimulation and magnetic nerve stimulation. Physical therapy is another natural form of treatment that can drastically improve your neuropathy. But first, you need to know what type of neuropathy you’re dealing with, and that’s what we help you determine today.
What is Neuropathy?
Neuropathy is not a single health condition. Rather, it’s a term used to describe any general diseases or malfunction of the nerves. In other words, if the nerves in the body become damaged, whether due to injury or disease, it is considered to be neuropathy2Salomon, S. (2020). What Is Neuropathy? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention. Retrieved 15 February 2022, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/neuropathy/guide/.
Now, you may have heard neuropathy being referred to as peripheral neuropathy. This is the same thing – a term used to describe any health problems involving nerve damage. However, it’s just a more specific term, as ‘peripheral’ tells the nerves that reside outside of your brain and spinal cord. They are responsible for relaying information between your brain and the rest of your body.
Peripheral nerves are divided into two main parts, and understanding these will help you determine what you’re experiencing specifically. The first category is ‘autonomic nervous system’. These are the nerves that control involuntary bodily functions and regulate glands. The second category, ‘somatic nervous system’ consists of nerves that control muscle movement and relay information from your ears, eyes and skin back to the nervous system3About Peripheral Nerves at UC San Diego Health. Retrieved 15 February 2022, from https://health.ucsd.edu/specialties/neuro/specialty-programs/peripheral-nerve-disorders/pages/about-peripheral-nerves.aspx.
The conditions that fall within these categories are irreversible. However, there are many steps you can take to prevent neuropathy or manage your symptoms to lessen their effect on your life.
Types of Neuropathy
There are four main types of neuropathy: peripheral, cranial, autonomic, and focal neuropathy, with each having vast differences.
Peripheral neuropathy, as mentioned, is nerve damage that resides outside of the brain and spinal cord. It typically affects the extremities, including the toes, feet, fingers, legs, hands and arms.
Cranial neuropathy is a type of neuropathy that only occurs when the nerves that directly exit the brain (cranial nerves) are damaged. So you can have optic (cranial) neuropathy and auditory (cranial) neuropathy. The first one is where the damage is to the optic nerve that transports visual signals from the eye to the brain, whereas the latter involves cranial nerves that carry signals from the ear to the brain.
Autonomic neuropathy is when the nerves are damaged in the involuntary nervous system. These are the nerves that control your heart and circulation, digestion, bowel and bladder, perspiration and the sexual response. However, nerves in other organs can also be affected by this type of neuropathy.
Focal neuropathy is when the damage is restricted to one nerve, one group of nerves, or one body area.
What Causes Neuropathy?
Nerve damage can be the result of a wide range of conditions or injuries. However, studies show that poorly controlled diabetes accounts for 60% of cases. Other common causes of neuropathy include chemotherapy, HIV, shingles, kidney disease, autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases, alcoholism, nutrient deficiencies, hereditary disorders, and physical trauma. In 23% of cases, the cause is unknown4Hicks, C. W., & Selvin, E. (2019). Epidemiology of Peripheral Neuropathy and Lower Extremity Disease in Diabetes. Current diabetes reports, 19(10), 86. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11892-019-1212-8.
Keep in mind there are also different types of neuropathy and the causes may vary for each. Nerve damage can also be caused by various diseases, injuries, infections and vitamin deficiencies. Here are some factors that have contributed to nerve damage:
- Diabetes: a condition that is commonly associated with neuropathy. Poorly managed diabetes accounts for 60% of cases. The risk of developing what is often referred to as diabetic neuropathy increases with age and duration of diabetes. It’s also considered to be more severe in these cases, as well as when the person is overweight, has elevated blood lipids or has high blood pressure.
- Vitamin deficiencies: Deficiencies in vitamins, such as B12, folate, and other B vitamins can cause damage to the nerves.
- Autoimmune diseases: Diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus and Guillain-Barre syndrome can cause neuropathy.
- Infections: Some infections, including Lyme disease, HIV, AIDS, leprosy and syphilis, can cause nerve damage.
- Post-herpetic neuralgia: A complication of shingles is a type of neuropathy.
- Alcoholism: Although the reasons are unclear, alcoholism has been linked to causing neuropathy. It is believed to be caused by the combination of damage to the nerves by alcohol with poor nutrition and vitamin deficiencies.
- Genetic or inherited disorders: Both genetic and inherited diseases can affect the nerves, causing neuropathy in some cases.
- Amyloidosis: A condition where abnormal protein fibers are deposited in tissues and organs, leading to organ damage and the possible cause of neuropathy.
- Uremia: Kidney failure that has resulted in a high amount of waste products in the blood can lead to neuropathy.
- Toxins and poisons: Gold compounds, lead, arsenic, mercury, some industrial solvents, nitrous oxide, and organophosphate pesticides can cause nerve damage.
- Drugs and medication: Certain drugs and medicines can cause damage to the nerves. Some examples are cancer therapy treatment, such as chemotherapy, and certain antibiotics.
- Injury: Any sort of trauma or injury to nerves can cause neuropathy.
- Tumors: Whether benign or malignant, tumors in the nerves or nearby areas can cause nerve damage due to the pressure on the nerves.
Natural Remedies for Neuropathy
Now that you understand the various types and causes of neuropathy, you may be able to see a specific area of the body that needs to be worked on to alleviate your symptoms. There are many tips and home remedies for neuropathy that can be done right in the comfort of your own home. Here are some of the most effective ones used today:
- Invest in self-care for your feet, as this is where the nerves are that are most commonly affected by neuropathy
- Foot soaks, massages, wear proper footwear, get a pedicure, etc.
- Top up on your daily vitamins, especially if your neuropathy is related to a vitamin deficiency
- B vitamins are essential for nerve health, and vitamin D can help prevent nerve pain
- Sprinkle on some cayenne pepper, as it contains capsaicin which is often used in topical creams for pain relief and can decrease the intensity of pain associated with neuropathy
- Butt out. Quitting smoking can improve your blood circulation to reduce numbness and pain caused by neuropathy
- Take a warm bath to alleviate symptoms and to increase blood circulation to decrease numbness and other related symptoms
- Use essential oils, such as chamomile and lavender, to improve circulation and reduce pain
- Book an acupuncture appointment to stimulate the body’s pressure points and to release chemicals that change the pain experienced.
Neuropathy is a serious health condition that needs to be treated promptly and adequately to get you back on your feet. Pardon the pun. With a little bit of dedication and time, you can learn how to naturally reduce your pain symptoms and put a stop to the agonizing symptoms you’re experiencing.
- 1Peripheral neuropathy – Symptoms and causes. (2021). Retrieved 15 February 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/peripheral-neuropathy/symptoms-causes/syc-20352061
- 2Salomon, S. (2020). What Is Neuropathy? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention. Retrieved 15 February 2022, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/neuropathy/guide/
- 3About Peripheral Nerves at UC San Diego Health. Retrieved 15 February 2022, from https://health.ucsd.edu/specialties/neuro/specialty-programs/peripheral-nerve-disorders/pages/about-peripheral-nerves.aspx
- 4Hicks, C. W., & Selvin, E. (2019). Epidemiology of Peripheral Neuropathy and Lower Extremity Disease in Diabetes. Current diabetes reports, 19(10), 86. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11892-019-1212-8