5 Alternative Treatments to Help Women Reduce Neuropathy Pain
Did you know that May 12-16th, 2016, is National Neuropathy Awareness Week?
It was established in 2005 as one of the federal government’s official national health observances, and is a week filled with events, media coverage, and educational outreach across the country.
This is an occasion to help educate our friends and loved ones on what neuropathy is, and how it affects the lives of those who have it. Neuropathy is actually the most prevalent cause for disability in the United States, according to Consumer Health Digest, which makes it a bigger issue than what most people may believe.
The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy states that over 20 million Americans suffer from peripheral neuropathy (PN), which is about one in every 15. Women are more often affected than men. According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 1988 and 2007, hospital discharge rates with neuropathy listed as the first diagnosis was 7.2 for women, and 5.4 for men. A 2011 study also reported that painful diabetic neuropathy was more prevalent in patients with type 2 diabetes, women, and people of South Asian origin.
The disease develops because of damage to the peripheral nervous system, which sends sensory information from the brain and spinal cord out to the rest of the body.
Symptoms of PN include numbness and tingling, pricking sensations, extreme sensitivity to touch, lack of coordination, muscle weakness, burning pain, and in severe cases, even paralysis and organ dysfunction.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for PN. Healthcare professionals focus instead on managing symptoms. Standard treatments include medications like antidepressants and anti-convulsants that help relieve nerve pain, topical creams to soothe burning and irritations, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), and in severe cases, surgery to help relieve pressure on a particular set of nerves.
Many patients, however, find only limited relief with these treatments, and the medications, in particular, often come with side effects. Those who continue to struggle often turn to alternative medicine for more help.
If you suffer from PN and you’re looking for other options, check out these five alternative treatments.
5 Alternative Treatments for Peripheral Neuropathy
Though we don’t have as many studies on alternative treatments as we do on conventional ones like medications and surgeries, early research shows that the following options have promise in helping to relieve symptoms and helping patients to enjoy a higher quality of life.
You may think if you’re in pain that needles are the last things you need, but studies have found that acupuncture can soothe PN pain. In 2007, for example, researchers studied 47 patients, giving 21 acupuncture while 26 received only standard medical care, but no treatment for PN. About three-quarters of the acupuncture group experienced improvements in symptoms, while only 15 percent in the control group did.
A later 2010 study also found that acupuncture was significantly more effective than placebo in improving numbness in the upper extremities and heat and burning in the lower extremities.
There are other studies showing positive results, and some that failed to find much of an effect. There are many different types of PN, so some women may find more relief than others. It’s certainly worth a try if you’re struggling with symptoms.
Again, this may seem a bit counterintuitive. If something is hurting, you may not anyone to touch it! According to the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy, though, massage can help in a number of ways. It may alleviate low back pain, lessen depression and anxiety, increase flexibility, ease nerve pain, and reduce spasms and cramping. It may also help you sleep better.
A 2011 study reported that both acupuncture and massage may help relieve neuropathic pain, and other studies have also shown some promise for this therapy. The important thing is to talk to your massage therapist about your condition so that she can modify her approach as needed for your comfort. You may not feel like you want to be touched where it hurts, but if you have a careful therapist, it may be just what you need.
You have little control over how your nerves respond, right? Well, studies show you may be able to regain some with biofeedback. This is a technique that helps train you to control certain process that are usually out of your control, like heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and even skin temperature.
You see a biofeedback therapist who then places patches (electrodes) on different parts of your body to measure these functions. The results are displayed on a screen that you can see. Then, you work on relaxation techniques like deep breathing and guided imagery that help you actually bring the levels down. Being able to see your heart rate drop, for instance, in response to your efforts, can help you to learn just what you need to do to control this and other systems.
How does controlling something like blood pressure help with PN symptoms? We know that stress, tight muscles, and anxiety can all make pain worse. Being able to teach your body and mind how to truly relax can create more relief than you may realize.
According to Lt. Col. Eugene B. Richardson, who suffered with severe neuropathy for 45 years and wrote about his experience in the Neuropathy Journal, patients who are having problems with opiate pain relievers may want to consider biofeedback. He says that Andy Griffith, of TV fame, had success with biofeedback for relieving PN pain, as noted in the book by Dr. Normal Latov entitled Peripheral Neuropathy: When the Numbness, Weakness and Pain Won’t Stop.
4. Tai Chi
Can you believe that tai chi may be more effective at easing the symptoms of PN than traditional methods of treatment?
That’s what one professor from the Louisiana State University found in his studies. His group tracked a group of participants with the disease who were regularly practicing tai chi or doing more traditional treatments like walking and using light exercise machines. Results showed that tai chi was the undisputed winner, helping patients to enjoy improved flexibility, sensation, and overall health. Patients also had a decrease in falls.
“I have really been helped with the program,” said Marian King, who prior to trying tai chi, had to stop working because of PN. “My legs felt like they had bands around them and my feet would burn almost constantly. Since I’ve been here, I’ve had only two episodes of severe burning and the bands, where as it was on a daily basis before.”
This may be a good option for you if you’re experiencing trouble with mobility, as the slow stretches and movements can help improve balance and reduce pain in the lower legs and back. Some studies have also found evidence that it can increase the nerves’ ability to send messages back to the brain and spinal cord, improving movement and physical function.
If you’re dealing with peripheral neuropathy pain and you’re not finding complete relief either with medications or other methods of treatment, meditation may help. Many patients dealing with chronic pain—no matter what the cause—have found significant relief with it.
How does it work? Imagine for a moment that you’re in a car accident, and your child is in the back seat. You may perform miraculous feats to save that child and not realize that you’ve suffered a severe injury until after everything is over.
The mind has the ability to block the sensations of pain—and meditation can help tap into those abilities. A 2010 study, for example, showed that patients who were taught meditation significantly reduced their pain sensitivity—by about 40 percent—after only three days.
Neurologic experts know that pain is complicated. It’s not just about an injury, but how the body perceives that injury, and how it communicates with the brain about it. Biological factors, environment, stress, psychological factors, and more can all affect what the patient ultimately experiences.
A 2011 study found that patients suffering from PN who participated in a weekly meditation class for two months reported an improvement in pain, physical function, and overall vitality. The controls showed no difference between the beginning and end of the study. A 2012 study also showed that mindfulness meditation helped relieve pain through enhanced cognitive and emotional control.
Try Different Methods Until You Find Some that Work for You
There are a variety of alternative treatments that can help women with PN to relieve pain, feel better, and enjoy a higher quality of life. The important thing is not to give up. If one method doesn’t work, try another. Every person is a unique case, and it may be that you just need to find the right combination of treatments and lifestyle to help you feel your best.
Donna Begg, “National Neuropathy Awareness Week: May 12-16th, 2015, https://www.consumerhealthdigest.com/health-awareness/national-neuropathy-awareness-week.html.
The Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy, [Press Release], April 1, 2016, https://www.foundationforpn.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/APRIL-1-2016-PRESS-RELEASE-NEUROPATHY-AWARENESS-WEEK.pdf.
“Peripheral Neuropathy Fact Sheet,” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, March 9, 2016, http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/peripheralneuropathy/detail_peripheralneuropathy.htm.
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