While there is no cure for neuropathy, the good news is that the future of treatment is hopeful.
The National Institutes of Health estimates that 20 million Americans, most over age 65, suffer with some form of peripheral neuropathy, a painful chronic nerve disorder. Peripheral neuropathy is a disorder that occurs when the nerve endings of your feet, hands or face malfunction because they have lost normal density and many are damaged. This disrupts normal nerve function.
Richard Allen, a retired teacher in Madison, Wisconsin, first experienced numbness in his legs and feet in his early 70s. “I noticed it most after standing, so I found myself making excuses not to do things like go to the zoo with my grandchildren or the Saturday morning farmers market with my wife,” says Allen, now 85, who was diagnosed with degenerative spine compression that damaged the nerve roots.
While many forms of this chronic nerve disorder have been identified, there is no known cure for this progressive disease. Causes of peripheral neuropathy include diabetes, chemotherapy and nerve compression syndromes, however most cases are diagnosed as idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown. “The current medical approach is to mask neuropathy symptoms with anti-seizure medication such as gabapentin or antidepressants such as amitriptyline,” says Dr. Kevin Polzin, Clinic Care Director and Lead Chiropractic Physician from the Bellevue Sound Pain Solutions network clinic. “Unfortunately, this allows the condition to progress in severity and frequency, affecting sleep, balance and mobility.”
Allen didn’t want to experience the common side effects of nerve-blocking medication, including memory loss, dizziness and increased risk of falls, so he has opted for physical therapy over the past 15 years. “Stretching my spine and legs, and strengthening my core, has helped some but the numbness and aching pain in my lower body has progressed to the point that I have serious trouble with my balance,” Allen says. “Honestly, I’m afraid of falling. This illness is frustrating and has put more and more limitations on my life.”
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While physical therapy alone won’t usually solve all of the issues of neuropathy, a comprehensive rehabilitation program can slow or altogether stop the progression of symptoms including numbness, tingling, aching pain and burning. “Early detection is optimal, but even patients with advanced symptoms often experience renewed balance and mobility — and a vastly improved quality of life,” Polzin says. “The key is a thorough patient exam to assess the damage and symptoms, and then customizing treatment to meet individual needs.”
Customized treatment for peripheral neuropathy
Treatment of peripheral neuropathy is multifaceted, including advanced laser technology, physio-therapeutic stretches and core strengthening to improve balance, and working with the systemic issues around how the patient’s body is utilizing diet and supplements. Inflammation is a major systemic issue, especially for patients with diabetes, who make up the highest percentage of the population suffering with peripheral neuropathy.
“The nervous system is incredibly complex, which means we have to deal with situations with how the brain communicates to the body, any issues that occur at the spinal level as messaging travels down the spinal cord, and then to and from the nerve endings in the layers of the skin,” Polzin says. “A comprehensive exam by a physician should determine what parts of that pathway could potentially be involved in the patient’s symptoms and proper treatment.”
Holistic and drug-free approach
According to Polzin, there is a time and place for drugs and surgery, but only when all conservative and natural treatments have failed — which doesn’t happen often with thorough patient screening.
What can you expect with drug-free treatment for neuropathy? Two to three in-clinic rehabilitation sessions per week (45 to 90 minutes each) are generally recommended as a starting point, and then reduced to once weekly. Patients also are given exercises to perform at home, twice daily. In-clinic treatment options include:
- Infrared therapy
- High-dose laser therapy
- Vibration therapy
- Balance therapy
- Nonsurgical spinal decompression
- Manual therapy
- Nutritional supplementation and specific food choices
- Lifestyle recommendations (sleep, diet, exercise, stress management)
These complementary methods work together to strengthen and rehabilitate damaged nerves, rather than just masking the pain or providing temporary relief.
Hope for the future
While there is no cure for neuropathy patients like Richard Allen who face daily pain and lifestyle limitations, the future of treatment for neuropathy is hopeful. “The modalities we use are becoming better understood,” Polzin says. “For example, the lasers are becoming more powerful and therapeutic in their effectiveness in a shorter period of time. We have recognized that our nerve cells respond quite powerfully to light. I see a hopeful future for the treatment of neuropathy.”
Sound Pain Solutions clinics provide care for chronic spine and joint pain as well as peripheral neuropathy. Their FDA-cleared therapies include nonsurgical decompression, high-dose laser, chiropractic care and advanced rehabilitation procedures. All care is supervised by staff chiropractic physicians.