Peripheral Neuropathy-“How Can My Feet Be Numb and Hurt At the Same Time?
Peripheral neuropathy is a condition of paradoxes. When obtaining history from a neuropathy patient, I often hear unusual and varied descriptions of their symptoms including:
* "I experience numbness in my toes and feet-yet they are painful"
* "Sometimes my feet feel ice-cold, while at other times they burn"
* "The bottoms of my feet extremely tight'
* "When I walk-I feel as if I am walking on sandpaper, rocks or marbles"
* "My toes tingle-a sensation of electrical shocks"
* "The severity of my symptoms varies-some days they feel ok-and on other days they feel miserable! I haven't done anything different-so why the change?
"The BIG question is-why are there so many different kinds of neuropathy symptoms?-and the answer is ........ We don't exactly know why. However to preserve your sanity, I will take a stab of giving you a logical explanation. The best analogy of the human nervous system is that nerves act very much like electrical wire. Electrical wire facilitates the movement of electrical current. Similarly nerves allow nerve impulses to travel the length of the spinal cord. When an electrical cord becomes frayed or damaged, different events may occur. Picture a lamp with a frayed cord-sometimes there can be a surge of electricity, causing the light to brighten. Other times the light may blink on and off-and in other instances the lamp may not work at all.
Peripheral nerves are defined as nerves that are away from the spinal cord and brain. The innervate the extremities-the feet and hands. Peripheral nerves can be damaged in two ways:
* Demyelination-Nerves have a cover-again back to wire analogy-similar to the cover of an electrical cord. The cover of the nerve is called myelin. In some cases of neuropathy the cover of the nerve is stripped away-called demyelination. This can cause the nerve to "short circuit," resulting in the symptoms previously described.
* Axonal loss- a nerve cell is made up a cell body and a tail like structure, called an axon. The axon allows the nerve impulse to jump from cell to cell. Axonal loss is defined as damage or destruction of the axon. When the axon is damaged, nerve conduction is interrupted.
Some disease processes or chemical damage can cause either demyelination or axonal loss. Diabetes, thyroid disorders, auto-immune diseases, HIV/AIDS, alcoholism, heredity disorders (Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease), side effects of chemotherapy can result in peripheral neuropathy.
I would like to end this blog on a positive note. Although peripheral is essentially not curable (there are some exceptions), new treatments including medications, light therapy, the effective use of vitamins and nutritional supplements, can help relieve symptoms-and equally as important-can arrest the progression of the condition.