Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that causes a patient to experience pain, numbness, tingling, or burning sensations in their hands or feet. The condition is due to damage of the nerves, usually as a result of trauma, diabetes, medications, infections, exposure to toxins, or secondary to another medical condition. It is a condition that can cause someone to experience chronic pain that easily affects the other aspects of their life. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can offer relief to those suffering from the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.
Typically, the diagnosis of peripheral neuropathy comes after another diagnosed medical condition because neuropathy is considered a symptom, not a condition by itself. A doctor may use electromyography or conduct a nerve biopsy to help diagnose neuropathy. Additionally, they may order x-rays, a CT, or MRI scan to look for pinched nerves, herniated disks, tumors, or other physical abnormalities that may be causing the peripheral neuropathy and rule them out first.
Patients with peripheral neuropathy may experience different sensations, and can be described as:
• Sharp, stabbing pain
• Sensitivity to touch
• An electrical sensation
The Western medical treatment for peripheral neuropathy consists of:
• Prescription medications – including pain relievers, anti-seizure medications, antidepressants, topical anesthetics to numb the local area
• Tens units – when small electrodes are attached to the skin, and a gentle electrical current is sent through the electrodes to help stimulate the nerves
• Regular exercise
• Quitting smoking
• Massage – which may help provide temporary relief of your symptoms
• Avoiding body positions that prevent circulation for extended periods of time, such as sitting with your legs crossed
The Chinese medicine treatment of peripheral neuropathy involves diagnosing which pattern of disharmony your body is experiencing that is causing the peripheral neuropathy symptoms. These may include:
• Damp-heat – usually due to an unregulated diet
• Yin Deficiency – can occur due to aging, or sometimes as a side effect of medical treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation
• Liver Qi Stagnation – can be due to excessive stress wearing on the body over time
• Blood Stasis – a complicating factor that can occur with chronic diseases
• Spleen Qi Deficiency with Damp Obstruction – occurs over time with damage to the digestive Qi
Any of these patterns may present alone or in combination with one another. Treatment will be aimed at reducing the pain, tingling, or burning sensations, as well as increasing your core Qi to help your body heal faster.
There are many acupuncture points on the body that can treat the above patterns as well as Chinese herbal formulas that can help treat peripheral neuropathy and reduce the symptoms. Additionally, nutritional recommendations may be made to help decrease the pain. Your practitioner may also recommend including a practice into your daily life such as meditation, tai chi, yoga, or biofeedback to help with the emotional side-effects and stress of chronic pain.
Since peripheral neuropathy can be a deep rooted, complicated condition, it can take a few treatments before the symptoms begin to improve, and may take months before very very noticeable effect takes place.