Peripheral Neuropathy: What is it? Can Acupuncture help?

For some people it is experienced as the uncomfortable sensation of "pins and needles" or burning pain (especially at night) of their hands or feet. Others may suffer even more extreme symptoms such as muscle wasting, paralysis, or organ or gland dysfunction.

With more than 100 types of peripheral neuropathies in existence, each with its own characteristic set of symptoms, pattern of development, and prognosis, the symptoms can vary as much as the cause. Nevertheless, Peripheral Neuropathy is a condition that can be treated with Acupuncture.

What is Peripheral Neuropathy?

Peripheral neuropathy describes damage to the peripheral nervous system, which transmits information from the brain and spinal cord to every other part of the body.

In most cases, peripheral neuropathy is secondary to conditions including diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, alcoholism, nutritional deficiencies, AIDS, or poisoning from heavy metals, chemotherapy, or various drugs.

Other causes include compression or entrapment (carpal tunnel syndrome), direct physical injury to a nerve (trauma), penetrated injuries, fractures or dislocated bones, pressure involving superficial nerves (ulna or radial) which can result from prolonged use of crutches or staying in same position, tumor, intraneural hemorrhage, exposure to cold, radiation or atherosclerosis.

It is a syndrome which includes symptoms of numbness, tingling, pricking sensations, sensitivity to touch, burning pain, and muscle weakness and atrophy of the arms and legs. The feet and legs are likely to be affected before the hands and arms.

Peripheral Neuropathy

Symptoms of peripheral neuropathy may include:

  • numbness or insensitivity to pain or temperature
  •  a tingling, burning, or prickling sensation
  • sharp, burning pain or cramps
  • extreme sensitivity to touch, even a light touch
  • loss of balance and coordination
  • muscle weakness
  • muscle wasting
  • paralysis

These symptoms are often worse at night. Many people have signs of neuropathy upon examination but have no symptoms at all.

How can acupuncture treat peripheral neuropathy?

Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that Peripheral neuropathy is due to dampness moving to the limbs, where it obstructs the flow of Qi (energy) and Blood within them. The treatment is twofold, to treat the underlying factor that is causing this dampness to accumulate and to directly facilitate the circulation of Qi and Blood in the affected area. By improving the circulation, the nerve tissues of the affected area can be nourished to repair the nerve functions and reduce pain.

Peripheral neuropathy is a symptom for many different patterns of disharmony within the body. Acupuncture aims to treat each individual uniquely depending on what caused the neuropathy and how it manifests. Dr. Atkinson will ask questions about how, what, where and when you feel pain, perspire, sleep, eat, drink and exercise, to name a few. He may also recommend an AcuGraph exam to measure the Qi energy in your meridian system. In addition to acupuncture, other methods such as Chiropractic, Laser, Nutritional Supplementation and Lifestyle changes may be combined to achieve faster results.

What Points Are Used?

In treating peripheral neuropathy, acupuncture points on the affected area are used as well as points on various parts of the body to treat the whole person according to their particular patterns of disfunction.

Each patient is custom-treated according to his or her specific and unique diagnosis. There are many acupuncture points on the hands and feet. Often the points will be chosen by which are the most tender to obtain the best results.

What will an Acupuncture Treatment feel like?

Little if any sensitivity to the insertion of acupuncture needles is noticed by most people.  It is very relaxing and most patients notice changes after just a few visits. The needles are so thin that 20 acupuncture needles can fit into the middle of an insulin hypodermic needle. Most people relax and even fall asleep for the duration of the treatment. The length, number and frequency of treatments will vary. 

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