Neuropathy

Introduction

Neuropathy is a condition that occurs when the nerves in the body are diseased or damaged. The nerves are important because they transmit information back and forth between the brain the rest of the body.  If the nerves in an area of the body are damaged, symptoms such as tingling, numbness, burning, cramping, and muscle weakness can occur. Some areas (especially hands and feet) can become abnormally sensitive to touch or movement.  In severe cases, a person may have burning pain, loss of muscle mass, or inability to use the affected part of the body.

In some cases, the symptoms last for a short time, then go away as the nerves heal. In other cases, the nerve damage and painful symptoms are chronic.

There are many possible causes of neuropathy, and sometimes the exact cause is not known. Possible causes include injury, repetitive movements, diabetes, impaired blood flow, autoimmune diseases, kidney failure, cancer and chemotherapy, neuromas (tumors), infections, and exposure to toxins (including alcohol).

Neuropathy can be diagnosed by a combination of tests such as a physical exam, blood tests, electromyography, MRI, and biopsy.

To learn more about Entrapment Neuropathy, refer to our Neurology Library’s Neuropathy:  Entrapment article.

Minneapolis Clinic of Neurology Physical Therapy for Neuropathies

The first step in treating neuropathy is addressing the underlying cause, if it is known. A doctor may recommend a surgery, procedure, or medication to help treat the initial cause or alleviate symptoms. In addition to this, a doctor may recommend physical therapy to help manage the condition.

MCN physical therapists can utilize various techniques to help desensitize the affected body part and improve overall function. Treatment strategies may include:
– Teaching patients how to stretch and strengthen specific muscles, and to allow nerves to move more easily, decrease compression on nerve, and improve strength of surrounding musculature.
– Working on balance and gait training to compensate for loss of sensation in affected limbs.
– Using graded motor imagery and left/right discrimination to retrain the brain’s communication with the affected body part
– Utilizing mirror therapy in cases of one-sided limb peripheral neuropathy
– Educating on healthy living strategies and provide resources or referrals specific to the patient’s needs
– Recommending any appropriate braces, assistive devices, or equipment to improve safety and ease with daily activities
– Teaching desensitization techniques
– Trialing modalities such as electrical stimulation in some cases