You’ve been sitting on the sofa with your leg tucked under you for the last hour. Now you’re ready to head to your kitchen for a quick snack, but your leg burns and tingles and your foot is numb. These symptoms occur because a nerve in your peripheral (pur-if-er-rahl) nervous system is compressed. Once the compression is removed from the nerve, the symptoms will soon disappear and you’ll be able to comfortably walk across the room.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for people with peripheral nerve problems. Neuropathy (ner-op-pathy) is a disorder that prevents the nerve from working properly, and if the root cause is not identified or addressed, the outcome may be chronic debilitating symptoms and overall functional decline.
Warning Signs and Early Symptoms
Peripheral neuropathy occurs when the sensory, motor, and autonomic functions of peripheral nerves are affected. Millions of people are diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy each year; however, the actual incidence is unknown as many people go undiagnosed.
Early symptoms of peripheral neuropathy include pain, burning, loss of sensation, diminished tendon reflexes, weakness, and bone deformities. These symptoms can lead to subsequent problems such as skin breakdown, decreased balance, and overall decrease in movement.
One of the most common causes is diabetes mellitus, yet peripheral neuropathy can also result from traumatic injuries, infections, metabolic problems, inherited causes, and exposure to toxins.
Common risk factors include:
- Specific diseases, including inflammatory (chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy) or autoimmune diseases (lupus), infections (shingles), critical illnesses, and hereditary conditions (Charocot-Marie-Tooth disease)
- Environmental exposures, such as repetitive stressors
- Certain medications, such as chemotherapy, Dilantin, Cipro, or Levaquin
- Vitamin and nutritional deficiencies, such as a lack of B1 or B12
It is easy to see why the prevalence of peripheral neuropathy is so high while the condition remains difficult to detect at times. In most cases, a good prognosis is dependent on early detection and individualized intervention. If you have noticed some of the symptoms listed above you should check with your physician.
Physical Therapy and Peripheral Neuropathy
Physical therapists (PTs) play an important role in the early detection and management of peripheral nerve problems. PTs can help patients improve and maintain function. A PT is able to perform a simple neurological screen to assist in narrowing down the possibilities of other contributing factors. The PT can then tailor an individualized treatment program that can:
- Improve patient/client knowledge and ability to self-manage pain
- Control inflammation
- Maintain or improve muscle length and flexibility
- Correct posture
- Improve muscle strength
- Improve movement quality
- Improve sensation
- Maintain nerve integrity
- Improve functional outcomes
- Improve overall health and fitness
With this focus on treatment the pain, weakness and other issues can be addressed, helping those with peripheral neuropathy to enjoy their lives.
If you have any questions about peripheral neuropathy or how physical therapy can help, please contact Rehabilitation Services at North Country Hospital at 802-334-3260.
Reference: Perron, A. (2019). Medbridge Inc.
Submitted by: Katesel Strimbeck PT, MS, MHA. Katesel is the Director of Rehabilitation Services at North Country Hospital. She has been a practicing PT for 21 years. She is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).