The vast network of nerves that control your body's movement, sensation, and sensitivity to temperature, pain, and pressure is a miraculous web of intricate connections. However, if you are one of the 20 million Americans suffering from peripheral neuropathy, you understand what can happen when these links are blocked or damaged. Excruciating pain, numbness or tingling can affect your ability to function.
What is peripheral neuropathy?
Nerves control your entire body by carrying messages to and from the brain.
These nerves are divisible into two types: central nerves (the brain and spinal cord) that govern basic functions like breathing and digestion, and peripheral nerves that carry signals from the central nervous system to the rest of the body.
When the peripheral nerves become overly sensitive or the messages they send and receive become distorted, the resulting pain, burning, weakness, numbness, and tingling is called peripheral neuropathy.
What causes peripheral neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is not one single condition but more than 100 series of symptoms and causes that fall under one umbrella. It can be acute (temporary) or chronic (consistent over an extended period). Each type of peripheral neuropathy also has its prognosis. Still, most fall into one of three categories.
Diseases are often the cause of peripheral neuropathy. Chronically high blood sugars from poorly managed diabetes are one of the most common causes of peripheral neuropathy.
Other conditions like Guillain-Barre syndrome cause acute neuropathy when the immune system suddenly attacks nerve endings. Other diseases like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Huntington’s can also cause neuropathy as the disease progresses.
Accidents, injuries, or repetitive use that cause inflammation or irritation to the tendons and ligaments of the body can also cause peripheral neuropathy. This resulting inflammation can constrict the pathways along which nerves travel. What results is the characteristic pain, numbness, or tingling associated with neuropathy.
Exposure to toxins
What most people don’t realize is that our peripheral nerves are sensitive to toxic chemicals. Continuous exposure to environmental toxins, industrial chemicals like lead and insecticides, certain medications associated with treating cancer or HIV, and copious amounts of alcohol can damage these nerves, sometimes permanently.
How does functional medicine treat peripheral neuropathy?
Dr. Shaw uses a functional medicine approach to treat peripheral neuropathy by first examining your exposure to environmental toxins. That may include exposures to pesticides, arsenic, and lead along with exposures to chemicals that may be damaging your nervous system.
Dr. Shaw also examines your balance, form, strength, posture and overall physical alignment to ensure your body can send and receive messages along the peripheral nerves. Finally, he makes nutritional and supplement recommendations based on your individual needs.
Altogether, this treatment plan addresses not just the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy, but the underlying cause as well.