Dr. John Tassone is the Director of Education for the Wound Care Clinic, Banner Thunderbird Medical Center
Question: What is neuropathy?
Answer: Neuropathy literally means “disease of the nerves.” One of the functions of the nervous system is to protect us from the often times unfriendly environment. It allows us to feel hot, cold, and pressure. When we lose this function, we lose this protective ability.
Question: What causes neuropathy?
Answer: The main cause of neuropathy is diabetes but there are other diseases that can cause it as well. Thyroid problems, certain anemias, alcoholism, and certain drugs are just some of the other etiological factors that can lead to nerve damage. This damage can consist of one nerve but mainly affects the multiple small nerves of the feet and hands.
Question: What are the symptoms of neuropathy?
Answer: Symptoms can include burning pain, sharp pain, stabbing sensations and numbness. The pain is usually worse in the night and affects both feet and hands. In progressing problems the legs can be affected and cramping can occur. There are many theories on what is actually happening to the nerves to cause them to malfunction. What’s a common feature however is the swelling that occurs in the nerve.
Question: How is it diagnosed?
Answer: The diagnosis is usually made in a clinical exam. Your physician can measure your ability to feel light touch with a monofilament that applies 10 grams of pressure. If you are unable to detect this amount of pressure, then you have lost your protective sensation.
Question: Can neuropathy be treated?
Answer: The treatment for neuropathy mainly centers around preventative care and comfortable. Although there are some treatment options that can restore some sensation with those patients that have lost the ability to feel touch, there is no cure for the problem. Of course, controlling the underlying cause of the neuropathy is essential. For example, if the patient is diabetic, keeping the blood sugar at a normal level can reduce the symptoms of neuropathy. There is also medication that can reduce the discomfort of the painful aspect of the neuropathy and essentially, “quiet the nerves down”. This can ease the discomfort the patient experiences.
Nerve decompression surgery is a procedure currently available that is gathering favor in the medical community. Based on the premise that nerves tend to swell in the presence of neuropathy, surgery is done at three locations in the lower extremity to release or free up the nerves at places where the nerve is coursing through an anatomical tunnel. A gathering of data from across the country shows that up to 72 % of patients found relief with the procedure. The procedure needs to be done by a competent surgeon who has been specifically trained in this type of surgery and the patient needs to be cleared by a physician for surgery and in fairly good health. Pain management is also an option for neuropathy and is best monitored by a pain management physician.