Our nerves are very important functional tools. They transmit the messages we need to sense the world and react to it—everything from knowing when something is hot to knowing our position in space so we can keep our balance.
Nerves must be sensitive to do their jobs, but that can lead to problems if something starts to go wrong. When damage is caused to the nerves by various means, the results can be tingling, pain, or numbness. These can result in bad and even dangerous situations!
While peripheral neuropathy can happen in many areas of the body, we will be concentrating on its common development in the feet.
What is Peripheral Neuropathy?
The peripheral nerves extend throughout the body. They serve as messengers to and from the central nervous system (your brain and spinal cord). The primary jobs of these nerves can be to sense the world around them, control muscle movement, or regulate bodily functions such as our heartbeat and digestion.
Neuropathy is simply the term for damage to a nerve and its effects. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 20 million people in the United States are believed to have a form of peripheral neuropathy.
The feet are particularly vulnerable to nerve damage because they lie on the edges of the nervous system. Not only do impulses have to travel farthest from these outreaches, but so too must the nourishing supply of blood from the heart.
In other words, it can be harder for nerves in the feet to do their job than in other parts of the body, and any interference is only going to be suffered more down there.
How Does Peripheral Neuropathy Develop?
Nerves can be damaged in several ways, both directly and indirectly.
A sudden physical trauma, such as from a fall, car accident, or sports injury, can cause a nerve to become compressed, pinched, crushed or severed. However, a nerve itself does not have to be directly affected. Bone or other tissue can begin to press against the nerve as well.
Nerves can also receive damage from repetitive, forceful stress, often as a part of work routines or physical activity. In these cases, the nerve and surrounding areas can become irritated and swollen, compressing the nerve.
Diabetes is a considerable cause of peripheral neuropathy, with 1 in 2 people who have diabetes also developing neuropathy. Not only can high blood sugar cause damage to nerves, but diabetes often negatively affects circulation to the feet as well. This is why diabetic foot care is vitally important!
A variety of other factors can contribute to nerve damage, including medications (especially chemotherapy drugs), alcohol abuse, vitamin deficiencies, autoimmune diseases, genetic disorders, and exposure to toxins.
It can feel like there is a lot going against your nerves, but there are ways to help protect them and manage neuropathy, as well.
What Can be Done About Nerve Damage?
Treatment for peripheral neuropathy is going to depend a lot on the underlying cause of it.
The primary focus in most cases is to manage the damage, to slow or halt its progression (and, in some cases, begin recovery). Another focus is to manage the symptoms of pain, tingling, and numbness that may be present.
Certain medications can effective provide more comfort, from standard over-the-counter pain relievers to topical ointments such as capsaicin cream (yes, the stuff in peppers!).
Therapies may center upon increasing circulation to the feet (in the form of physical therapy) or even stimulating the nerves electronically to encourage activity and healing.
In some cases, surgery may be recommended to relieve pressure against a nerve, reducing irritation.
These are just a few general treatment suggestions. Once again, an ultimate plan will depend on the underlying cause of neuropathy as well as the patient’s needs and lifestyle. We will be sure to discuss all your options with you so there is full confidence in whatever path you choose moving forward.
Address Neuropathy Now to Avoid Complications Later
Nerve damage in your feet is not something to take lightly. Allowing it to continue unabated, or trying to ignore it entirely, can lead to serious complications. Injuries to the feet can go unnoticed due to numbness, then worsen and growing infected. The consequences can be life-threatening, with amputation a real and unfortunately too common possibility.
Dr. Bruce Scudday and our expert staff can help you best manage neuropathy and protect your feet from further damage. Call our Curie Drive office at (915) 633-5151 or our George Dieter office at (915) 856-3331 to schedule an appointment with us.