How Can Physiotherapy Help with Neuropathy?

Neuropathy (sometimes referred to as peripheral neuropathy) is a term used to refer to a range of health problems that involves damage to the peripheral nerves. While severe damage to the nerves is often irreversible, steps can be taken to prevent neuropathy or manage the condition through lifestyle, diet, and neuropathy treatment.

Symptoms

Generally, neuropathy symptoms will depend on the individual as well as the underlying cause. Typically however, symptoms can include:

  • Constant or intermittent numbness 
  • Prickling, burning, or tingling sensations 
  • Pain
  • Muscle weakness or atrophy (shrinking)
  • Impairment to urination as well as sexual function
  • Dysfunction in the glands or organs
  • Paralysis of limbs in more severe cases

To understand how neuropathy affects the body, it is important to remember that the nervous system is divided into two parts: the central nervous system (the spinal cord as well as the brain) and the peripheral nervous system (transmits messages to/from the central nervous system and the rest of the body).

The peripheral nervous system is also divided into somatic or voluntary nervous system (controls functions one can consciously control like moving the limbs, etc.) and autonomic or involuntary nervous system (regulates processes one does not have any control over like breathing, digestion, and heartbeat.

Disruption or damage to the voluntary or involuntary peripheral nerves can cause neuropathy. Motor and sensory nerves can also be affected.

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Risk Factors

In the United States alone, an estimated 20 million people suffer from some form of neuropathy. Risk factors associated with the condition include, diabetes, chemotherapy, compressed nerves from spinal conditions, alcohol abuse, autoimmune conditions, and prolonged medication use for cholesterol or high blood pressure.

The most prevalent type of neuropathy is diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy accounts for as much as 60 percent of the total number of people suffering from neuropathy.

When the neuropathy has no known cause, it is referred to as idiopathic peripheral neuropathy. 

Other types of neuropathy can be attributed to physical trauma, toxicity, repetitive stress, autoimmune disorders (Sjögren’s syndrome, sarcoidosis, celiac disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Guillain-Barré syndrome, etc.), metabolic disorders (kidney failure, hypoglycemia, etc.), alcoholism, hereditary disorders, hormonal disorders, and nutrient deficiencies.

Neuropathy and Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy is designed to help restore function and movement to individuals affected by illness, disability, or injury. Providers trained in physiotherapy teach patients exercises and movements and will also educate and provide advice to help facilitate recovery from pain or discomfort.

The primary goals of physiotherapy for patients with neuropathy include improving gait, coordination, and balance as well as maintaining muscle strength. Physiotherapy can also provide an active solution for numbing, balance deficits, joint stiffness, and hypersensitivities. 

Physiotherapists can also recommend various body exercises that can help increase the range of motion and strengthen specific muscles. Low impact exercises may also be prescribed so no further damage occurs.

The diagnosis and treatment process begins with determining the cause(s) of the nerve damage. Tests will also be conducted to determine functional levels and the likely amount of nerve damage. Other factors like muscular weakness, motion limitations, and balance impairments will also be taken into account.

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From there, a specialised treatment program designed for the patient’s unique needs will be created. 

A very useful tool that conservative providers like physiotherapists, chiropractors, and others have found helpful for neuropathy treatment is polychromatic light therapy (PLT). This treatment uses specialised medical grade LEDs to produce reactions in the body that improve blood circulation to peripheral nerves and can decrease symptoms of peripheral neuropathy. 

Also patients with peripheral neuropathy have shown positive response to whole body vibration (WBV). This therapy only takes a few minutes each session, but stimulates the body’s nervous system by providing a high amount of fast, vertical stimulation. This also helps with improving circulation and improving balance. Ask your provider if they have PLT and WBV treatment options to help with your peripheral neuropathy symptoms. 

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