Peripheral neuropathy refers to any number of conditions that damage the peripheral nervous system. This vast communications network transmits signals between the central nervous system (CNS, the brain, and spinal cord) and the rest of your body.
Peripheral nerves send several different types of sensory information to the CNS, such as that your feet are cold, you’ve sustained a cut, or you’re walking on uneven ground. They also carry signals from the CNS to the body, including commands for the muscles to contract or the stomach to digest food. In fact, the signals affect every organ and system in your body.
Researchers estimate that 20 million people in the US have some form of peripheral neuropathy. However, the number may be significantly higher, as not all people with neuropathy symptoms are tested for the disease, and current tests don’t look for all forms of neuropathy.
Neuropathy symptoms, including pain, tingling, and weakness in the extremities, can range from mild to disabling but are rarely life-threatening. Which symptoms you have depends on which nerve fibers are affected and the type and severity of the damage.
Symptoms can develop in just days or over the course of many years. In some cases, they improve on their own and may not require advanced care. That’s because peripheral nerve cells continue to grow throughout your life, unlike nerve cells in the CNS.
At Santa Cruz Osteopathic, osteopathic physician Richard Bernstein, DO, and his team use physiatry to treat all manner of neuropathy, including peripheral neuropathy. Keep reading to learn more about this field of medicine and how it works to give you relief from your symptoms.
How do nerves misbehave?
In neuropathy, nerve signaling becomes disrupted in three ways:
- Loss of signals normally sent
- Inappropriate signaling (e.g., sending a pain signal when nothing hurts)
- Errors that distort the messages being sent (nerve misfiring or brain misinterpreting)
Some forms of neuropathy involve damage to only one nerve, but the most common experience is when many or most of the nerves are affected (polyneuropathy)
What is physiatry, and what do physiatrists do?
Physiatry is a branch of medicine, often called rehabilitation medicine, that’s dedicated to diagnosing, preventing, and treating disabilities related to the brain, nerves, bones, and muscles. Physiatrists take a holistic, multifaceted approach to patient care that focuses on how their medical condition affects every aspect of their life.
Physiatry combines physical therapy and pain management to maximize physical functioning, decrease or eliminate pain, and improve the quality of life for those with chronic pain and physical impairments. Ideally, the approach improves the patient’s condition enough so they can avoid surgery.
A physiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation. After graduating from medical school, they undergo four years of post-graduate training through internship and residency programs. This allows them to bring a broad knowledge of medicine, biomechanics, anatomy, and knowledge about musculoskeletal and neurological disorders to patient care.
Physiatrists use physical therapy treatments, medication management, and an array of procedures, including soft tissue, muscle, nerve, and spinal injections, to treat various physical and cognitive disorders. That means they work closely with other types of physicians to best serve the patient’s needs.
Physiatry for peripheral neuropathy relief
Physiatrists use the following diagnostic tests to confirm peripheral neuropathy:
- EMG (electromyography)
- NCS (nerve conduction studies)
- Musculoskeletal ultrasound
Once they have a diagnosis, they draw up an individualized treatment plan to address the symptoms you’re experiencing and their severity. The plan may include:
- Therapeutic exercise
- Pain medications
- Soft tissue injections
- Joint injections
- Spine injections
- Interventional spinal therapeutics
- Spasticity management
The more engaged you are in your treatment, the faster it moves and the more relieved you’ll feel.
If you’re dealing with peripheral neuropathy, seeing a physiatrist may provide the relief you need. To learn more or to schedule a consultation with Dr. Bernstein, call us at 831-464-1605 or book online today.