A close family friend has been suffering from a progressive condition that effects more than 22 million Americans each year.1 It started with a tingling sensation in his toes that was relieved by simply shaking his feet for a minute or so. Over time, the tingling grew more constant becoming an unwanted companion throughout the day and night. The numbing sensation began crawling from his toes into his feet; he also developed secondary symptoms such as burning, leg irritation and muscle weakness. His condition is called peripheral neuropathy.
Peripheral neuropathy is a complicated disease caused by nerve degeneration in the sensory, motor and/or autonomic peripheral nervous system. It can produce a wide range of symptoms which can vary from person to person. Sensory symptoms may include numbness on the extremities, burning pain, insensitivity to temperature changes and hypersensitivity to touch. Motor complaints include limb weakness, muscle loss and muscle cramps. Autonomic complaints may include excess sweating, heat intolerance and gastrointestinal issues.2
Diabetes is the leading cause of neuropathy in our country effecting 60 to 70% of those with the condition. Other causes include injury and trauma, autoimmune disease, infection, kidney and liver disorders, excessive alcohol consumption, vitamin deficiencies, some medications and some inherited conditions.3
Treatments vary depending on cause with lifestyle alterations, such as maintaining a healthy diet and stable blood sugars, playing a coveted role. Exercise, massage, supplementing with alpha-lipoic acid, meditation, yoga and acupuncture can also help relieve symptoms.3 If patients are experiencing high pain levels, antidepressants or anti-epilepsy drugs may be used to help quiet nerve pain conduction to the brain.
As an acupuncturist, I am seeing more and more patients presenting with peripheral neuropathy. One patient diagnosed by his doctor came to my office as his condition seemed to be progressing, and medical therapies had not helped. He agreed to weekly treatments of electric acupuncture and within six weeks, felt the prick in his nerve conduction test for the first time in years. His numbness improved as did his ability to walk up inclines allowing him to once again enjoy walks with his family. Unfortunately, not every patient has the same success story. A diabetic peripheral neuropathy patient had difficulty controlling his blood sugar levels, and ultimately, only got momentarily relief with acupuncture.
Peripheral neuropathy is a complicated condition with no single solution. Identifying the root cause with your health care practitioner is the best place to start. In numerous studies, acupuncture has demonstrated beneficial results in nerve and motor conduction4 and may be considered as a complementing therapy to diet, lifestyle and medical intervention as necessary.
Agustin Orozco is a licensed acupuncturist and certified massage therapist with AcQpoint Wellness Center in Palm Desert. He can be reached at (760) 345.2200 or www.acqpoint.com.
References: 1) https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/patient-caregiver-education/fact-sheets/peripheral-neuropathy-fact-sheet; 2) https://www.ninds.nih.gov/health-information/patient-caregiver-education/fact-sheets/peripheral-neuropathy-fact-sheet; 3) https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14737-neuropathy; 4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5359694/