Well, technically all pain comes from our nerves. They are how our body responds to things that are damaging it—hopefully in an attempt to stop or get away from that cause of harm. But when damage or distress is happening to the nerves themselves (aka neuropathy), the result is often symptoms without an immediate, obvious cause, and that just doesn’t feel right at all!
What can cause neuropathy? And even more importantly, what can be done to fight back against it? These are questions we help patients with all the time.
What Neuropathy Can Feel Like
Nerve pain tends to be fairly distinctive, but just pain in itself is not always the only symptom. Other symptoms a person with neuropathy may experience are:
- Numbness and/or a reduced feeling of sensation (in other words, you may not sense pain or temperature as well as you used to).
- Tingling sensations.
- Burning pain.
- An increased sensitivity to touch. Even the brush of a bedsheet against the foot may cause pain.
- Muscle weakness or lack of coordination.
Please note that not all of these symptoms need to be present for a neuropathy diagnosis. Being aware of them, however, and reporting them to us can help greatly.
Underlying Causes of Neuropathy
As we noted, “neuropathy” is simply a term that means damage to the nerves. This damage can stem from several different sources.
One of the more common causes of peripheral neuropathy we see in the feet is diabetic neuropathy. About 30 percent of neuropathy cases can be tied to this condition, and its effects on the body make it easy to see why.
High levels of blood sugar, not controlled, can damage sensitive nerves. To make matters even worse, diabetes can also damage the small blood vessels that provide nerves the oxygen and other elements they need to survive. Essentially, diabetes slowly attacks and strangles nerves over time.
If you have diabetes, then neuropathy is certainly something to take into consideration whether you currently show symptoms of it or not. However, it is not the only potential cause of neuropathy in the feet.
Other causes of neuropathy may include:
- Trauma. Nerves can become damaged or severed due to various injuries. This type of trauma can also include unintentional damage caused by previous surgeries.
- Other medical conditions. A variety of medical conditions, including autoimmune disorders, bone marrow disorders, and diseases of the kidney and liver can also have neuropathy as an adjacent symptom.
- Vitamin deficiencies. Particularly a lack of several B vitamins and vitamin E.
- Alcoholism. Excessive alcohol use can be tied to neuropathy, particularly in connection with a poor diet.
- Medications. Neuropathy can be a side effect of certain strong medications, such as those that can be used in chemotherapy.
Determining the factors that are affecting a patient’s neuropathy is, naturally, a major step in determining the best course of treatment.
How to Address Neuropathy
Neuropathy in the feet is not something that can be easily reversed, but, in certain situations, improvement can be seen in nerve health and function.
In cases of nerve entrapment, for example, in which a nerve is being compressed against a bone or tissue (e.g. tarsal tunnel syndrome), a surgical procedure to release the nerve often results in significant improvement of symptoms almost immediately.
For other situations, such as diabetic neuropathy, the primary goals are to slow the progression of the neuropathy and maintain or improve nerve function as much as possible.
If diabetes is in the equation, taking steps to manage blood sugar levels effectively will absolutely be part of a neuropathy treatment plan.
Whether diabetes is a factor or not, other possible recommendations for controlling neuropathy may include changes to diet as well as maintaining a healthy exercise routine. Both of these factors can help improve circulation, which in turn helps nerves receive the nutrients they need for function and repair.
We may also consider MLS laser therapy to help reduce pain in certain cases. This may also have an effect in helping nerves recover.
A condition such as neuropathy requires monitoring over time, and regular check-ups to ensure nerve function is not degrading—and especially that other complications to the feet are not developing. It would be very important to discuss a plan for the future with you, as well as remain consistent in daily self-evaluations of your feet.
Staying One Step Ahead of Neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy in the feet can be a concern, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a showstopper for many of the things you love to do. The sooner the condition is identified and steps are taken to address it, the better your nerve health can be maintained and the fewer negative effects your condition can have in the future.
We have a free guide for heel pain that delves deeper into the topic of neuropathy in the feet ankles. Please visit this page to request it.
And whatever other questions you may have about nerve health in your feet, please do not hesitate to reach out to us with them! Call us at (512) 328-8900 to schedule an appointment in our Austin office. If you prefer contacting us electronically, fill out our online contact form at any time and a member of our staff will reach out to you during our standard office hours.