What Is Peripheral Neuropathy?

There are terms used commonly all over the internet: peripheral neuropathy, neuropathy, or diabetic neuropathy, all meaning basically the same thing. The problem is that people often don't really know what these terms mean. They know it means that the nerves are having problems, but don’t understand exactly what that term means. In most cases, they think it means the nerves are dead, or they're dying. So what I'd like to do is actually take you through a stepwise process to help you understand exactly what peripheral neuropathy is. Peripheral Neuropathy, by definition is a malfunction of peripheral nerves. Not a nerve death, in most cases, and not absence of nerves except in rare situations.

The Nervous System

Before you can truly understand the peripheral nervous system, you need to understand the central nervous system. The central nervous system includes the brain and spinal cord.(pictured in orange) All the nerves of the brain and spinal cord make up this first system. The brain includes all the structures of the brain including the cerebrum, the cerebellum, and the brain stem. As you continue through the central nervous system, you have the spinal cord from which most of the remainder of the body is innervated.

The Peripheral Nervous System

The peripheral nervous system includes all the individual nerves that are not in the brain or spinal cord. So, the nerves of the face, of the chest, the brachial nerves (or nerves of the arms), the intercostal nerves (or nerves between the ribs), and the nerves to the legs and feet. Basically, any nerve that doesn’t include the brain or spinal cord is considered part of the Peripheral Nervous system.

In all types of Peripheral Neuropathy the nerves are malfunctioning...not dead!  If fact, there are 3 types of malfunction.

The 4 Types of Peripheral Neuropathy

  • Large Fiber Sensory Neuropathy: A form of sensory neuropathy involving the long, myelinated (sheathed) nerves that allow fast conduction of impulses to the brain or spinal cord. They principally carry non-nociceptive (non “painful”) stimuli and dysfunction is usually not associated with pain.
  • Small Fiber Sensory Neuropathy: A form of sensory neuropathy involving the small nerve fibers that may be myelinated, but are usually unmyelinated (don’t have the lining or sheath from the Schwann cells).  These nerves have a slower signal and carry many different sensation types, but usually are associated with nociceptors (pain sensors) including the abnormal sensations called paresthesia (tingling, prickling, or even burning).
  • Motor Neuropathy: Another form of large fiber neuropathy involving the nerves carrying signals from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles of the body (telling them what to do).  Symptoms can include weakness, muscle wasting, fasciculations (uncontrolled muscle contractions or spasms) and even some forms of muscle cramps.
  • Autonomic Neuropathy: An often forgotten form of peripheral neuropathy involves the autonomic nervous system or the nerves controlling the involuntary or automatic functions of the body.  The involuntary body functions that can be affected including heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow (blood vessel contracture or expansion), respiration, digestion, bladder function, sexual function and even the simple release of oils or sweat to the skin (sweating happens because of this system).

In all types of Peripheral Neuropathy the nerves are malfunctioning...not dead!  If fact, there are 3 types of malfunction.

The Truths About Nerve Pain

Nerve pain is the most common reason individuals come to see the doctor. With peripheral neuropathy, pain can present from an uncomfortable numbness to shooting pain, stabbing pain or even electrical shocks.

As you can see on this graph symptoms can vary from normal feeling (on the left) to no feeling (on the right) with increasing pain as you go up the curve. Most individuals find themselves near the top of the curve and may jump between numbness, tingling or burning and stabbing, shooting or electrical pain. The biggest benefit of this curve is the understanding that often symptoms will increase as part of the process of resolving or improving peripheral neuropathy. Hopefully that graphic gives you a better understanding of your individual symptoms.

There Are Treatments For Peripheral Neuropathy

The biggest misconception or biggest misinformation you can receive is that "nothing can be done for peripheral neuropathy".  There is nothing further from the truth! The truth is: "Peripheral Neuropathy CAN Be Treated!"

But when it comes to treatments, there are only 5 categories or classes of treatments:

  • Nerve Repair
  • Nerve Repression
  • Nerve Reeducation
  • Nerve Reset
  • Nerve Release

If the treatment you are being "sold" doesn't fit in one of these classes, it will be unsuccessful!

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