Neuropathy is damage to the nerves as a result of injury or disease, and is most commonly associated with the peripheral nerves (nerves outside the brain and spinal cord). Peripheral nerve damage can cause problems in the way internal organs such as the digestive system, heart and bladder function, but most often affects the hands and feet. The main cause of peripheral neuropathy is diabetes, but may also result from advanced age, injury, tumors compressing a nerve, arthritis, alcoholism, certain neurological disorders (spina bifida and fibromyalgia) and certain medicines (chemotherapy drugs).
Neuropathy causes abnormal sensations of numbness, burning, tingling, sensitivity or stabbing pain in the extremities. It may also be associated with loss of sensation, weakness or paralysis. It is necessary to examine your feet regularly as you may be more prone to injury due to the loss of protective sensation.
There is no cure for neuropathy. Treatment is centered on slowing down its progression, alleviating symptoms, managing the underlying condition and maintaining the health of your feet. Your doctor will prescribe medication for pain and recommend physical therapy to strengthen muscles. Symptoms may also be alleviated with acupuncture, relaxation techniques and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), which stimulate and block the nerve pathways of pain. The underlying causes of neuropathy, such as diabetes and vitamin B12 deficiency, may be treated with lifestyle modifications, appropriate medication and supplements. You are advised to visit your podiatrist (foot doctor) regularly, wear properly fitted shoes and avoid walking barefoot to protect your feet and prevent injury. Surgery may be required to remove tumors or release nerve compressions causing neuropathy.