Neuropathy is not one single disease, but several conditions that accompany damage to one or more of your peripheral nerves. Peripheral Neuropathy (PN) affects 1 in 7 Americans, with diabetes being the number one cause. Some refer to neuropathy as “the most common disease you have never heard of.” The population affected by neuropathy manifest similar symptoms, but at different intensities and in different locations. One of the most commonly affected areas is the feet. Understanding the risks, causes, symptoms, and treatment options for your foot neuropathy is essential for your short-term and long-term wellness.
Simply stated, peripheral neuropathy results from damage to the peripheral nerves, or the nerves that travel to your arms and legs. Damage to these nerves leads to dysfunction, lack of sensation, and pain. So, what causes peripheral nerve damage? The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) offers the following list of common triggers for peripheral nerve damage:
Certain medications, including some chemotherapy drugs.
Heredity. Some people have a family history of peripheral neuropathy.
Advanced age. Peripheral neuropathy is more common as people age.
Arthritis. Certain type of arthritis, especially involving the back, can cause peripheral neuropathy.
Alcoholism. According to the US National Library of Medicine, up to half of all long-term heavy alcohol users develop peripheral neuropathy.
Neurological disorders. Certain neurological disorders, including spina bifida and fibromyalgia, are associated with peripheral neuropathy.
Injury. Acute injury to the peripheral nerves may also cause peripheral neuropathy.
Identifying your symptoms when they are in their infancy is crucial for preventing irreversible damage and chronic conditions.
Are you experiencing burning, numbness, tingling, or shooting/stabbing pain in your toes and/or fingertips? One of the first signs of peripheral neuropathy is a change in sensation in these key areas. Alert your caregiver if you have these symptoms. Even if symptoms are slight they shouldn’t be brushed aside. Catching them early is key.
If you have been diagnosed with neuropathy in your feet, now is the time for vigilance. A loss in sensation can decrease your awareness of foot-based injuries or infections. The APMA recommends the following steps if you have neuropathy in your feet:
Examine your feet regularly.
Seek medical attention promptly at the sign of trouble.
Ensure you wear shoes that fit with good support.
Abstain from walking barefoot to prevent injury or infection.
Control your blood sugar to decrease (and prevent) nerve damage.
Eliminate your triggers for PN as best you can with your caregiver’s guidance.
Peripheral neuropathy of the feet requires specialized care from someone trained in this specific area of the body. Podiatrists are doctors that are experts of the feet. If you have peripheral neuropathy of the feet, a podiatrist should be included in your health and wellness plan. While there is no known cure for PN, a podiatrist can help you slow the progression of the condition, control your discomfort, and preserve foot health. It is recommended that you see your podiatrist at the minimum of once a year.
While there is no cure for peripheral neuropathy, there are ways to lessen your symptoms. Lifestyle choices play a key role in preventing peripheral neuropathy. You can take active role in treating your neuropathy, or helping avoid it, by: abstaining from alcohol, eliminating vitamin deficiencies, practicing a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding toxins and getting regular exercise.