If you’re living with peripheral neuropathy (PN), life can be difficult. PN is caused by nerve damage to the peripheral nervous system, the system that connects nerves from the brain and spinal cord to the body.
As a PN sufferer, you may have numbness, tingling or constant, sharp pain in your arms, legs, hands or feet. Or you may have muscle weakness or extreme sensitivity to touch, or even loss of balance. PN affects every area of your life, interfering with how much you can work to how much time you can spend with your family.
PN impacts people with autoimmune diseases, diabetics and chemo patients, but for many (4.5 million people, says The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy) the cause is unknown. The medical community is actively researching a cure, but until then, life is about finding ways to make the pain manageable, even if just for a short period of time.
Many patients find complementary and alternative therapies helpful in controlling the pain. Here are some examples of alternative therapies that can be used to decrease PN symptoms:
Psychological factors contribute to chronic pain, particularly stress. The cycle in which pain causes stress, which causes more pain, which in turn increases stress, can become an endless feedback loop.
Mind/body approaches, such as meditation, hypnosis and biofeedback can help you learn to manage stress, thus decreasing pain.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is one popular type of meditation. It combines mindfulness meditation and yoga to cultivate greater awareness of thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It lowers blood pressure, limits depressive episodes and decreases stress. The combination of yoga and meditation also helps prevent disuse atrophy, which exacerbates chronic pain.
Hypnosis is a state of deep relaxation, during which you selectively concentrate on reducing symptoms. Patients can be guided through the process by a practitioner or can be trained to use self-hypnosis. Hypnosis can relieve pain for hours at a time.
Biofeedback uses a variety of machines and techniques, including EEGs, EMGs, and temperature biofeedback — alongside deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery and meditation — to train you to identify and relax tight muscles or notice when your temperature is dropping (a sign of stress) so you can actively lower your stress level.
Biofeedback has been used to reduce pain, headaches, anxiety, incontinence and high blood pressure, all of which can be associated with PN.
Acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine in which a practitioner inserts needles, heat or electrical stimulation at precise points. These points exist on “meridians,” which are like rivers or pathways through the body, and which nourish specific organs or systems.
In addition to pain control, acupuncture has been shown to help neurological and muscular disorders and digestive problems. It can also reduce the need for medication and improve the overall quality of life for pain sufferers.
Most of us have had a massage, either at a spa or through a chiropractor or physical therapist. It’s being offered increasingly by conventional doctors to help reduce stress, alleviate pain, improve range of motion and increase joint flexibility. Massage also releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and improves circulation, which can decrease tingling and hypersensitivity.
One of the symptoms of PN is being off balance, which can cause you to fall. A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine showed that long-term tai chi exercise improved physical performance among people with PN.
Tai chi improves the nerves’ ability to send signals to the brain and spinal cord. It also improves balance by strengthening and reintegrating the muscles of the legs and back.
While there’s no cure yet for PN, these therapies can mitigate symptoms, from imbalance to pain. For more information on alternative therapies visit thefoundationforpn.org, whose information served as a resource for this article. Becoming a premium member gives you access to their newsletter, health and wellness guides and a practitioner directory for complementary and integrative therapies. You can also follow them on Facebook.
Have you tried an alternative or complementary therapy for peripheral neuropathy? Did it work for you? Tell us in the comments.