Peripheral neuropathy is caused by damages to the nerves outside of the spinal cord and brain. If untreated, peripheral neuropathy can cause numbness or weakness in your feet and hands. Neuropathy can be caused by a variety of conditions including:
- Bacterial or viral infections – Viruses like HIV, hepatitis B , or the Epstein-Barr virus. Bacterial infections like Lyme disease and diptheria also may cause neuropathy.
- Tumors- Whether cancerous or not, tumors that develop on the nerves can cause the nerve to sever or become damaged over time.
- Diabetes- Over half of diabetes patients experience some form of neuropathy during their illness.
- Autoimmune illnesses- Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus can cause peripheral nerve damage.
- Physical trauma – Sports injuries and auto accidents can cause damage to the peripheral nerves.
- Alcoholism- Many alcoholics make poor dietary decisions, making them more prone to neuropathy.
Many people are reserved about treating their peripheral neuropathy because of a fear of surgery. The good news is, there are many treatments that don’t require any surgery at all! In fact, surgery is only usually required if you have a tumor pressing down on your nerves.
Patients opt for a variety of medications including:
- Antidepressants- Drugs like Cymbalta and Effexor XR work well for patients with diabetes to help control the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. Tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline or Pamelor interfere with chemical processes in the brain which prevent the nerves from sending pain signals to your hands and feet.
- Topical medication- Capsaicin cream may be able to make small improvements to peripheral neuropathy symptoms. Lidocaine patches may also be able to help you relieve pain associated with neuropathy.
- Pain relievers – Lots of patients like to opt for over the counter medication like Advil or Tylenol to relieve mild symptoms. If you find yourself in severe pain or discomfort, a doctor may prescribe you painkillers. Oxycontin and tramadol are popular options, but their tendency to cause addiction should be weighed when making medical decisions.
- Anti-seizure medications- Pregabalin and gabapentin were created to treat epilepsy, but may help ease nerve pain caused by peripheral neuropathy.
- Eliminating triggers – If your neuropathy is caused by drugs or alcohol, eliminating these substances can relieve symptoms entirely. There are medications to help you quit drinking and doctors can help you taper off medications that cause peripheral neuropathy symptoms.
Some non-medication related treatments for peripheral neuropathy may include:
- Physical therapy- If you’re experiencing muscle weakness, physical therapy may help you regain strength in areas affected by peripheral neuropathy. Physical therapy may also ease muscle spasms and cramps.
- Plasma exchange- Plasma exchange removes the antibodies from your blood, while returning your blood after removal. This antibody removal may help suppress the immune system, which can relieve symptoms for those that suffer from inflammatory conditions.
- TENS- Standing for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, this treatment delivers different frequencies of electrical current to provide relief to damaged nerves. For only a half hour each day, improvements may be seen as soon as a month.
- Mobility aids- If you find that moving causes you pain, your doctor may recommend aids like wheelchairs, foot braces, or a walker. Mobility aids will typically be prescribed alongside physical therapy, with the goal of making your use of mobility aids temporary.
All in all, surgery may not be required to mend your peripheral neuropathy symptoms. Many treatments, both medication and therapy may provide relief depending on the severity of symptoms.