Peripheral neuropathy is an ailment faced by many diabetic and cancer patients but can occur even outside these conditions. The purpose of the nervous system is to transmit information, feeling, and instructions between the brain and the body. The term ‘peripheral nerve’ refers to those nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to the skin, internal organs, and muscles.
Nervous System Damage
When damage to the nervous system exists, communication can be impeded, limiting movement and sensation in the affected areas. Some patients of peripheral neuropathy will also experience pain as part of the condition.
Yes. While they all result from the same form of damage, the location of that damage and the areas affected are identified by different names. Carpal tunnel, for example, is a form of peripheral neuropathy resulting from repetitive motion. These conditions are particularly common in those over the age of 55 but can occur in patients of any age. Your physician will let you know what your specific type of peripheral neuropathy is called and what its symptoms and treatments are.
Tingling, loss of sensation, numbness, and burning sensations are all commonly reported in patients experiencing peripheral neuropathy. These symptoms can lead to dangerous situations due to the resulting lack of sensation. Patients with peripheral neuropathy may not recognize that they’ve been injured, or may burn themselves due to the inability to detect temperature in an affected area. Loss of bladder or bowel control, sexual dysfunction, constipation, low blow pressure, and other conditions can all be symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.
What causes a peripheral neuropathy is dependent on the specific type being discussed. Broadly speaking, these neuropathies are broken into three categories – Acquired, hereditary, and idiopathic. Idiopathic neuropathies are those where the cause remains unknown.
Acquired Neuropathy – This type of neuropathy has multiple causes, including diabetes, alcoholism, poor nutrition, certain medications, cancer, kidney disease, AIDS, etc.
Hereditary Neuropathy – This type of neuropathy is not common, but include conditions that are passed to a child from one or more of their parents. One of the most prevalent is Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 1, which results in the arms and legs experiencing weakness.
These include just some of the potential causes of peripheral neuropathy. Your physician will help you determine what the specific source of your condition is.
Another common type of nerve entrapment is tarsal tunnel syndrome. It includes “anything that produces compression on the posterior tibial nerve,” the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS) says.3
The tibial nerve is located near the heel. And the burning, tingling, or shooting sensations often radiate from the instep (arch).
Other symptoms include numbness and foot cramps. Both can worsen while the foot is at rest, such as when you’re sitting or sleeping.
Sometimes, placing padding in a shoe (where the foot is being compressed) can relieve foot pain. Other times, more elaborate orthotics are necessary. Orthotics are prescription medical devices that you place inside your shoes.
Tarsal tunnel syndrome often recedes with cortisone shots or other anti-inflammatory treatments. As a worst-case scenario, surgery may be necessary to release the nerve.
The long-term high blood sugar (glucose) associated with diabetes can lead to a form of nerve damage. This is known as peripheral neuropathy.4
Like other forms of nerve damage, neuropathy pain feels like burning or shooting pain. And it often appears overnight.
The pain of neuropathy may come and go. It may also be marked by a gradual loss of feeling in the feet. Often, it begins in the toes and moves up the foot.
Treatments for diabetic neuropathy include blood sugar control, medications like antidepressants, or anti-seizure drugs. Vitamin B and the dietary supplement alpha lipoic acid may also help.
A pinched nerve, known as nerve entrapment, can occur in various regions of the foot. Trauma—from swelling, blunt impact, or even a tight shoe—is the most likely cause.2
A pinched nerve can feel like shooting or burning pain. Or the surrounding area on top of the foot may feel sensitive.
Pinched nerves in the feet are treated much like Morton’s neuromas. Rest, wearing roomier shoes, and anti-inflammatory medications may also help.
Morton’s neuroma involves a thickening of the nerve that runs between the third and fourth toes. Typical symptoms include a burning or shooting pain in this area, most often while walking.1
Another common symptom is a vague feeling of pressure beneath the toes, as if a sock was bunched up underneath them.
Common treatments include shoe modifications, arch supports, and cortisone injections to decrease swelling. Typical shoe modifications include lifts and rocker soles, which provides cushion where it’s needed.