As you know, neuropathy is a complex condition with many symptoms and causes. As a result, there are a variety of neuropathy treatments ranging from conventional to alternative methods that offer relief from nerve pain. In the guide below, you will learn about each therapy, it's benefits as well as the potential side effects. Use the Quick Navigation below to skip to sections.
An Overview of Neuropathy
Around 8% of people older than 55 suffer from neuropathy. Nerve pain is most often caused by a chronic medical condition, which is usually known as peripheral neuropathy.
Within the peripheral nervous system, the nerves are responsible for the transmission of messages between the central nervous system and the rest of the body.
The nervous system is made up of two essential elements.
The first is the central nervous system and the second one is the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system, meanwhile, is essentially the brain and the spinal cord.
The nerves are responsible for the regulation of the various bodily functions. Those functions include the motor nerves, which regulate voluntary muscle movement; the autonomic nerves, which regulate involuntary activity of the organs; and the sensory nerves, which provide you with perception of stimuli.
When people develop neuropathy, they have a condition in which their nerves have become disrupted or damaged. As stated, around 8% of people over 55 suffer from this, which is around 2.4% of the rest of the population. This does not, however, include those people who suffer from neuropathy as a result of nerve trauma.
In addition to pain, other symptoms of this condition may include increased skin sensitivity, muscle soreness, and individual muscle paralysis. Affected areas of the body may hurt sharply, or they may become numb, feel cold, itch, or burn.
Two particularly common symptoms are a recurring sensation of pins and needles, and “foot drop,” a condition in which one or both feet cannot be raised properly. Because of symptoms like these, PN can give rise to serious mobility issues.
Types of Neuropathy
There are three types of peripheral nerves, each of which can be affected by neuropathy. They are:
- The sensory nerves, that are responsible for carrying the messages from the eyes and other sensory organs, to the brain.
- The motor nerves, which ensure you can consciously move the different muscles in your body.
- The autonomic nerves, which are responsible for all of the body’s involuntary functions, which include organ functions.
It is also possible for just one nerve to be affected by neuropathy, a condition known as mononeuropathy. This includes:
- Cervical neuropathy, which affects the neck
- Femoral neuropathy, which affects the thigh
- Peroneal neuropathy, which affects the knee
- Radial neuropathy, which affects the arms
- Ulnar neuropathy, which affects the elbows
Sometimes, people experience neuropathy in two different nerves, meaning they have multiple mononeuropathies. This is known as “mononeuritis multiplex neuropathy”. But in most cases, people suffer from neuropathy across many different peripheral nerves, which is called “polyneuropathy”.
The National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) has stated that there are more than 100 different peripheral neuropathies.
What Causes Neuropathy?
There are multiple potential contributing factors behind the development of this condition, but it most often arises as a complication of diabetes, usually in combination with one or more common nutritional deficiencies.
At its heart, neuropathic pain is caused by damage to the nervous system. Most commonly, this involves the peripheral nerves.
If one were to draw a comparison between the nervous system and a tree, the peripheral nerves would be the tree’s limbs, off of which the smaller branches grow.
In this comparison, the spinal cord would be the trunk of the tree. Damaged peripheral nerves send false or incomplete signals to the spinal cord, and from there to the brain, resulting in the triggering of some of the body’s warning systems and other reactions.
Diabetic neuropathy cannot be cured, but there are a variety of treatments used to try and control its symptoms, with some success in delaying the progression of the illness (or even in reversing some of the damage). These range from herbal remedies, to traditional western medicine, to the true cutting edge of medical science today.
Neuropathy may be congenital, meaning it is inherited at birth, or it can be acquired. The latter can happen at any point in time. Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease is the most common congenital condition that leads to inherited neuropathy. Around one in every 2,500 people in this country are affected by it.
In the case of acquired neuropathy, it is not always clear what causes the condition. This is then referred to as “idiopathic neuropathy”. However, in many cases, the cause is very clear. They include:
A systemic disease is one whereby the entire body is affected. In the case of neuropathy, the underlying systemic disease is almost always diabetes. With diabetes, the high levels of blood glucose cause irreparable damage to the nerves. That said, there are also other systemic diseases that can lead to neuropathy, such as:
- Kidney disorders. These cause toxic substances that damage the nerves to course through the body.
- Exposure to heavy metals, poisons, and other toxins, including thallium, mercury, lead, and arsenic
- Certain medications and drugs, including antibiotics, antivirals, anticonvulsants, and anticancer medication like chemotherapy
- Liver diseases that lead to chemical imbalances
- Hormonal disease, particularly hyperthyroidism. This disrupts the natural metabolic process, which can cause body parts and tissue to swell, putting too much pressure on the nerves.
- Vitamin deficiencies, particularly vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B12, vitamin E, and niacin. These all impact nerve health.
- Alcoholism, because alcoholics often have nutritional deficiencies, particularly vitamin deficiencies.
- Benign and malignant tumors that place too much pressure on the fibers of the nerves.
- Chronic inflammation, particularly if it affects the nerves’ protective tissue. When this happens, it is more likely that they become compressed and the inflammation may also spread.
- Blood vessel damage and blood diseases that can affect the tissue of the nerves by not supplying enough oxygen.
Physical trauma to the nerves can lead to the condition as well. If trauma stretches, compresses, crushes, or severs the nerves, it can cause permanent damage. In fact, the nerves can be completely detached from the spinal cord. The most common types of trauma that can cause neuropahty include sports injuries, falls, and motor vehicle accidents.
Pressure on the Nerves
Different situations can put too much pressure on the tissue and fibers of the nerves. Poorly fitted casts after a broken bone, for instance, can cause this. If pressure on the nerves is prolonged, which often happens due to repetitive strain like carpal tunnel syndrome, can also cause neuropathy. Carpal tunnel syndrome affects the wrists’ median nerve in particular. Other forms of repetitive stress can cause inflammation to the ligaments, tendons, and muscles, which in turn puts pressure on the nerves.
Both viral and bacterial infections can cause neuropathy. Some directly attack the nerves, while others do so indirectly. Such infections include:
- Lyme disease
- Epstein-Barr virus
Autoimmune disorders, whereby the body’s immune system treats healthy parts of the body as a foreign invader and starts attacking them, can also lead to nerve damage. The most common autoimmune disorders that do this include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy
- Acute inflammatory demyelinating neuropathy, or Guillain-Barre syndrome
- Sjogren’s syndrome
Can Neuropathy Be Cured?
Many people who suffer from neuropathy want an answer on whether or not their condition can be cured. Most of the time, doctors will suggest that many cases of neuropathy can be fully cured, but the truth is that new studies are being released everyday which prove the impact that certain courses of treatment can have on repairing damaged nerves and banishing unwanted pain.
In fact, with early intervention, it's worth noting that many peripheral nerve fibers can begin to regrow and regenerate, so long as the nerve cells are still alive. What's more, eliminating the underlying cause behind the nerve damage can also assist in preventing future problems.
The treatment to be used for diabetic neuropathy will depend largely on your symptoms and the forms of neuropathy present. In most cases, treatment focuses on reducing current symptoms and preventing conditions from worsening by focusing on underlying causes.
For instance, in people with diabetes, this would mean keeping your blood sugar levels on target, and checking up on your diet regularly. It is also wise to ensure that you maintain healthy habits, such as controlling blood pressure, seeing your doctor regularly, and ensuring that you eat a balanced diet. Most health experts will recommend avoiding alcohol and giving up smoking whenever possible, as these substances can worsen neuropathy symptoms.
While there are plenty of over the counter medications that can work to reduce the pain and discomfort often associated with neuropathy, it's worth noting that these medications will not work to regrow or regenerate nerve cells.
The treatment for this may be found in natural solutions. In fact, studies are increasingly showing that a combination of carefully mixed vitamins and minerals can work to repair nerve fibers and remove the pain associated with neuropathy.
Part I: Conventional Neuropathy Treatments
Unfortunately, this condition is not curable. This means that treatment is based on finding ways to manage the symptoms and increase overall quality of life. Lifestyle measures are of particular importance, as these can ensure that the progression of symptoms is slowed down. Key lifestyle measures include:
- Controlling blood sugar, particularly for people who are diabetic
- Cessation of smoking
- Working out and having greater physical activity
- Maintaining a healthy weight
Nerve pain medications are almost always prescribed as a treatment particularly once the condition starts to progress.
1. Psychiatric Drugs
A range of psychiatric drugs developed for other purposes have been shown to help during pain management treatment in patients with chronic nerve pain. The drugs in question are typically those which regulate or otherwise affect dopamine production, and their effects are limited to nerve pain, as opposed to other sources of pain.
Because this type of pain is so resistant to treatment, including over-the-counter medication, these drugs are receiving a lot of attention—but they aren’t without side effects of their own, particularly in the long-term.
There have been numerous scientific studies that have shown that using anticonvulsants as a treatment can benefit people with nerve damage. Certain anticonvulsants, particularly gabapentin, also have very few adverse side effects. This is why physicians now consider it as a first choice for the treatment of neuropathy.
Another anticonvulsant that may be prescribed is phenytoin. However, as an antinociceptive agent, it is only supported by weak to modest evidence. Lamotrigine, meanwhile, has a better potential to control and modulate the pain associated with damaged nerves. Two controlled trials have demonstrated this, but a third one did not measure any effect on neuropathy, whether positive or negative.
Other anticonvulsants that are being considered as treatments include tiagabine, pregabalin, topiramate, valproic acid, clonazepam, and phenobarbital. These have been found to have both antinociceptive and anti-hyperalgesic properties. However, they have only been tested on pain levels in animals with neuropathy at present. Further clinical trials are being conducted.
A study review completed in 2005 showed that people whose nerve tissues have been damaged, causing disabling pain, should consider antidepressants as a form of treatment. The review looked at a total of 50 different studies in which 19 different antidepressants were examined for their effects on neuropathic pain.
The conclusion was that tricyclic antidepressants in particular can significantly decrease pain levels. Examples of tricyclic antidepressants are nortriptyline, desipramine, clomipramine, imipramine, and amitriptyline.
4. Topical Pain Medications
Both opioids and over-the-counter medication can be prescribed as a form of treatment. Examples of topical medication include capsaicin cream (Lidoderm) and lidocaine patches (Lidopain). These medications, which are patches, lotions, gels, ointments, or creams to be applied directly to the source of the pain, can provide rapid relief of inflammation and nerve pain. The skin absorbs the active ingredients in the topical medication, providing localized relief only. Topical medications are further divided into local anesthetics and analgesics.
5. Local Anesthetics
Local anesthetics have been used quite successfully in the treatment of localized pain. These drugs numb the part of the body on which they are applied, thereby blocking the pain signals. Examples of local anesthetics are:
- EMLA-A, which is a prescription drug. It is quite slow-acting, taking around an hour to take effect. The numbing lasts for several hours.
- Lidoderm, which is a lidocaine patch that is only available on prescription. It is placed directly on the source of the pain and provides quite rapid relief.
- Over-the-counter products, which are recommended for mild pain, as they do not provide a lot of relief.
Analgesics are generally over the counter substances. To use them as a form of treatment, the cream or gel is rubbed into the skin. Usually, an analgesic will contain capsaicin, which is derived from the seeds of the chili pepper. Brand names include Zostrix, Dolorac, and Capzasin-P.
It is believed that capsaicin makes it harder for the nerve cells to send the brain pain messages. However, the drugs are not very strong and are therefore used only on minor pain that is found close to the surface of the skin.
7. Home Remedies For Neuropathy
There are several all natural, home remedies for peripheral neuropathy such as lifestyle changes which are effective in the treatment of neuropathy. Besides what has already been mentioned, people may want to manage their stress levels and engage in proper foot care, protecting the feet as well as the skin.
Furthermore, they can consider home remedies like warm water treatments and chiropractic massages. Increasing levels of hydration has also been found to be of benefit, but the water should be clean and filtered. Avoiding both alcohol and smoking is equally important.
With diabetes pinpointed as a major factor in the onset and advancement of peripheral neuropathy, it follows that making healthy diet and lifestyle choices will minimize the damaging effects of the condition.
Research is ongoing into whether or not the underlying damage, and thereby the symptoms, can be reversed by such changes, but there is evidence suggesting that its progress can be halted. It's also wise to have healthy habits, such as seeing your doctor on a regular basis, eating a balanced diet, exercising, maintaining good blood pressure, and avoiding bad habits like smoking and drinking alcohol.
8. Avoid Excess Alcohol
Avoiding alcohol is one of the most simple all natural remedies for neuropathy. Alcohol consumed to excess can lead to various health conditions getting worse, including neuropathy. It can make the symptoms worse, particularly pain and numbness. Poor nutrition and diabetes are two examples of this.
Because nerve damage is permanent, it is important to limit alcohol intake. Moderate drinking is fine, which means no more than one drink daily for women and men over 65, or two daily for men younger than 65.
Alcohol makes it difficult to properly control the level of blood sugar. Those who are alcoholics tend to also have poor nutritional profiles, meaning they become deficient in various nerve-supporting vitamins, including B complex vitamins.
9. Managing Diabetes
Diabetes is one of the main causes of neuropathy. Having both diabetes and high blood pressure increases the risk of complications in your neuropathy because both damage the blood vessel and lead to reduced blood flow.
Those who have been diagnosed with diabetic peripheral neuropathy must focus strongly on managing their glucose levels within their appropriate range to keep the condition from getting any worse. On top of that, they must look after their feet properly and treat any wounds they sustain.
This is because people with neuropathy will often not feel any pain in the affected areas. It is also believed that nerves may regenerate to some degree when diabetes is properly controlled. If nothing else, it prevents further damage. It's worth noting that blood sugar levels can be kept in check if you take your insulin or diabetes medication as required, and check your level regularly.
Also, it's important to note that most health experts will recommend caring for your feet when you suffer from diabetic neuropathy, as it can cause loss of feeling. This means that is possible for a foot problem to go unnoticed without proper foot care.
10. Dietary Changes
It will come as no surprise that one of the most effective home remedies for nerve pain is proper nutrition, which help to prevent neuropathy and manage the condition in those who already have it.
The most well-advised practices, outside of nutritional supplementation, are those which are widely advocated for the management of diabetes. Sugar cravings can be controlled by reducing the sugar in one’s diet a little at a time.
Many diabetic individuals occasionally enjoy a sweet dessert; this isn’t a self-destruct button, but avoiding complex carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice) is highly advised, as is replacing some of the “sweet” in a dessert with unsaturated fats instead.
Cravings can be further controlled by restricting sweet foods to meals with a variety of flavors, rather than making them stand-alone snacks. A neuropathy diet focuses on eating more seafood and shellfish, more vegetables, and high-quality proteins: nuts, beans and legumes, cheese, and unsweetened yogurt are a few good examples.
Healthy eating is another popular home remedy which consists of portion control and proper intake of carbohydrates. It is common knowledge that people must consume a healthy diet in order to remain healthy and live longer. This will help to prevent various types of conditions, not just neuropathy.
This will keep blood sugar level under control, thereby preventing nerve damage from occurring or limiting its progress. A healthy diet also contains a variety of different foods to make it nutritious and balance. Those with neuropathy should consider visiting a dietitian to develop a meal plan that is right for them.
Those with neuropathy should consider switching to a diet that contains a lot of fresh produce, whole grains, nuts, and fish. This can also help them to maintain a proper and healthy BMI. Being overweight or obese often worsens the symptoms of neuropathy.
Additionally, by consuming a healthy, balanced diet, gastrointestinal problems such as incontinence, constipation, and diarrhea may also be avoided. Sometimes, these problems are caused by neuropathy to the nerves that control the contractions of the intestinal muscles. Of course, consuming a healthy diet also ensures that people do not become nutritionally deficient in any way.
Healthy meals should consist of lean protein, fruits and vegetables, foods rich in B vitamins, hot peppers, and plenty of nuts. However, they should not contain high levels of saturated fats, sugars, or refined grains. There is also some suggestion that consuming less foods rich in gluten may benefit those who suffer from neuropathy, although further research needs to be conducted into this.
11. Regular Exercise
Another natural remedy is regular exercise, which may reduce pain or cramps, improve muscle strength, help control blood sugar levels, and prevent muscle loss. In particular, activities such as walking or swimming can improve neuropathy symptoms and encourage nerve pain relief.
Besides food, being active on a daily basis can also present part of a treatment option for diabetic neuropathy. After all, daily activity helps to protect your heart and improve the circulation around your body. It's also very helpful when it comes to keeping your blood pressure or blood sugar level in check too.
The American Diabetes Association recommends that individuals with diabetes should get around thirty minutes of moderate exercise at least five times a week. If you have severe decreased sensation in your legs from neuropathy, then your doctor might suggest that you don't take part in activities that require your legs to bear weight.
12. Foods Rich In Vitamin B12
Another little-known home remedy is consuming more foods that contain one of the key vitamins that people with neuropathy are deficient in, which is vitamin B12. It is particularly common for this deficiency to be found in older adults and in those who take Metformin. Without proper levels of vitamin B12, peripheral neuropathy symptoms tend to worsen.
People with neuropathy, therefore, should ask their physician to check their level of vitamin B12. If this is below normal, over the counter supplements are easy to find and are very affordable. Vitamin B12 can also be found naturally in fortified cereals, eggs, lean meat, fish, and poultry.
13. Going Vegan
There is some evidence to suggest that people who suffer from neuropathic pain can benefit from eating a diet that is 100% plant based. This was confirmed by a study by the Dietary Intervention for Chronic Diabetic Neuropathy Pain (DINE). They completed a study among people who had type 2 diabetes and who suffered from neuropathy.
One group was asked to consume a vegan (no animal products), low fat diet and to take vitamin B12 supplements. The control group did not eat a vegan diet but did take vitamin B12 supplements. It was found that the symptoms improved in both groups, but far more so in those who consumed the vegan diet.
Additionally, marked improvements were seen in overall quality of life, cholesterol, and A1C levels. This would suggest that diabetics in particular should consider a vegan diet with vitamin B12 supplements.
14. Nutritional Supplements
There are a number of supplements that are believed to be a beneficial treatment option, most notably to reduce the associated symptoms. B complex vitamins are obviously needed, but there are others as well. Alpha-lipoic acid, for instance, is an antioxidant that is commonly used in Europe as a form of peripheral neuropathy treatment.
Additionally, omega 3 supplements, such as fish oil supplements, may also help to reduce inflammation and improve the flow of blood. Some evidence also suggests that curcumin, which is found in turmeric, a yellow spice, and evening primrose, can improve the symptoms like burning, tingling, and pain. Before taking any kind of supplement, however, you should always consult a physician.
Besides steps relating to nutrition and other types of medical treatment, there are various other options to consider for the treatment of neuropathy as well. Many people want to avoid pharmaceutical drugs because they lead to side effects and can be habit forming.
However, a lot of people have reported that non-pharmaceutical treatments, including relaxation techniques, meditation, biofeedback, and acupuncture have benefited them.
In fact, some of these treatments, particularly acupuncture and relaxation, are backed by scientific evidence. Before trying any kind of alternative, over the counter, herbal, or supplemental treatment, however, you should always consult with a physician.
There are several neuropathy supplements available for purchase which were specifically developed to help treat nerve pain, often involving years of research and development.
They rely on the results of dozens of clinical studies assuring the safety of their ingredients, even in the high dosages in which they are often represented. Many of these are based on vitamin supplementation, which has been shown to be effective as described above.
15. Boost Your Circulation
One of the best things you can do to improve the health of your nerves is to seek out ways to enhance your circulation. After all, proper circulation permits your blood to carry vital nutrients and oxygen to cells throughout the body. Some of the best methods of improving circulation will include drinking lots of water, stretching, having massage therapy, elevating your feet, and using proper dietary tools.
On the other hand, the things that hurt your circulation might include restrictive clothing, smoking, sitting for longer periods of time than usual, and poor nutrition. Remember that when you're dealing with neuropathy, self-care and checking your symptoms constantly can help to address underlying causes and protect you from damage that might occur over time.
16. Invest in Proper Footwear
Keep in mind that if you're suffering from peripheral neuropathy, one of the most effective natural home remedies you implement are to protect your feet is to make sure that you are wearing the right footwear.
Choosing the right pair of shoes or socks is crucial for those with neuropathy within the feet, and it's important to make sure that both socks and shoes are neither too tight or restrictive, as this might cut down the circulation.
Socks that have plenty of additional padding might minimize damage in the feet, and when picking your new pair of shoes, make sure that you search for options that allow the feet to breathe. Remember, any item of clothing that is even slightly too small might cut off necessary circulation, whereas items that are too big might be uncomfortable to wear, causing the feet to slide around.
For those who suffer from pain instead of numbness, shoes that include shock-absorbent soles can be useful to help minimize the impact of the floor on the feet. When these shoes are paired with cushioned socks, they often reduce painful sensations during exercise or motion.
PART 2: Natural Neuropathy Remedies
Neuropathy happens when the nerves become damaged. In almost all cases, the peripheral nervous system is affected, which is the system that includes the autonomic, sensory, and motor nerves. Those nerves are responsible for voluntarily and involuntarily sending brain messages.
When people have neuropathy, they may have damage to the myelin part of the nerve, which is the substance that covers the nerves and serves as electrical insulation so that the signals are transmitted to the brain through the axons. With the myelin sheath damaged, the nerve signals are not guided through their proper paths. Additionally, the large and/or small fiber nerves can be affected as well.
Acupuncture is a type of Eastern medicine that is used for a variety of different conditions and its effectiveness has been accepted as scientific fact.
It utilizes needles that are inserted in key points in the body, which are believed to be pressure points through which Qi, which is life energy, flows. Doing so stimulates the central nervous system and the body starts to release endorphins.
Those are hormones that help people feel good, while reducing pain signals at the same time. Endorphins start to flow through the brain, the spine, and the muscles, thereby changing the way the body responds to pain.
A lot of people who suffer from neuropathy use acupuncture to relieve the pain they experience. Not just that but there is some suggestion that nerve damage can be restored because acupuncture also improves blood flow. Research on the exact benefits of this natural remedy and how it works to treat peripheral neuropathy must still continue, but a number of successful studies have already been completed.
Studies on the veracity of acupuncture are ongoing. The practice is the focus of a great deal of criticism, and many of its claims are unproven, but there is evidence to suggest that its effects extend beyond the expected range of something that relies purely on the placebo effect.
One study was conducted in 2007, which confirmed that patients with neuropathy who received regular medicinal care benefited from having acupuncture as a supplemental therapy, finding greater relief than patients who did not receive this as well.
Additionally, so long as a licensed professional performs the acupuncture, there is no risk to the treatment. That said, it does come with some potential side effects, including:
- Pain and bruising. The discomfort is minor, but the needle sites may leave some bruises. Some people also experience a little bit of bleeding.
- Injury. This is most likely if the practitioner is not properly trained to offer acupuncture. They may push the needles in too deeply, thereby causing significant injury. Indeed, injuries to the lungs and other organs are not unheard of.
- Infections. An acupuncture needle must be sterilized. If it was not properly sterilized, there is the chance of the patient becoming infected with blood borne diseases, some of which are life threatening.
Additionally, it is important to understand that acupuncture is not a neuropathy treatment that everybody can have. There are a number of medical conditions that increase the chances of the patient experiencing complications, and people with those conditions should therefore avoid acupuncture. They are:
- Those with bleeding disorders or who have to take blood thinners for medical reasons. Because of this, acupuncture needle insertion sites will not heal as readily compared to those who do not have these disorders.
- Those who are pregnant. While this does not exclude acupuncture as a treatment, it is vital that advice from a physician is sought. This is because some techniques used in acupuncture may induce labor and premature delivery.
- Those who have heart problems. In many acupuncture techniques, electrical pulses or heat is applied to the needle sites, which increases the nerve response. Those who have a pacemaker, however, may find that the therapy interferes with their device with potentially lethal consequences.
18. TENS Therapy
TENS is short for “transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation,” and it requires the use of a specially designed device, which is a little bit smaller than an old-fashioned Walkman. It first became a form of treatment for neuropathy towards the end of the 1990s.
Developed for treating otherwise stubborn nerve pain impulses, the TENS device features two electrodes, which are non-invasively connected to the skin.
The device delivers transcutaneous electrical impulses, which modulate the way pain impulses are sent to the brain.
These are a harmless, low-voltage current, localized to a problem area, which encourages healthy nerve activity through direct stimulation. It uses ,
It is highly effective for some types of neuropathy, but relatively ineffective for others.
Specifically, this stops the spinal cord’s dorsal horn from completing presynaptic transmissions, thereby inhibiting the nociceptive stimuli. Additionally, it has been found that TENS can offer some endogenous pain control by stimulating dynorphins, endorphins, and enkephalins, which are all feel good hormones.
It is common for TENS to be used together with other forms of medication to supplement their effects. People can use a TENS machine for a continuous period of half an hour, and they can continue to use it for a period of several days to several months. A TENS machine usually has three different settings:
- Pulsed, which provides a high frequency burst
- Acupuncture like, which provides a high intensity stimulus. However, this setting is limited by how well the patient can tolerate the treatment.
- Conventional settings
Unfortunately, TENS also has some contraindications and drawbacks to be aware of. That said, most people who tolerate it will only experience minor side effects. The contraindications to be aware of with TENS treatment include:
- Irritation of the skin, which is experienced by around a third of all patients. This is mainly caused by the electrode gel drying. It is very important, therefore, that you learn exactly how to use the TENS machine and that you follow instructions.
- Hypersensitive reactions of the skin. This is generally a reaction to the tape that keeps the electrodes in place. You can choose to use self-adhesive electrodes instead, which are disposable, but this increases the cost of the machine. Those who use TENS for repeated applications are encouraged to vary the location of their electrodes to avoid this hypersensitive reaction.
- Skin burns. These tend to only happen if the TENS machine is used too long or improperly. Additionally, people must remember to not place the electrodes on any location where they have reduced sensation, which can happen with neuropathy, as it means they would not be able to feel the skin burning.
- Pacemaker. Those who have a pacemaker cannot use a TENS machine for similar reasons as with acupuncture.
- Pregnant. Those who are pregnant cannot use the TENS machine as it can induce early labor, just like with acupuncture.
While there are some significant and serious disadvantages to TENS, researchers do agree that it provides significant relief of neuropathic pain. This is particularly true when people first start to use it. Unfortunately, the long term benefits are poorly understood. Some patients continue to find relief by using TENS, others experience quite rapid analgesia.
Unfortunately, the studies that have looked at how long most people can use TENS have been very poorly conducted, which means scientists have not yet found an answer in terms of the effectiveness of the device. That said, good quality studies that support the use of TENS include:
- A report by the American Academy of Neurology’s Therapeutics and Technology Assessment Subcommittee that was published in 2010, which showed TENS to be “probably effective” as a form of treatment for those with diabetic neuropathy. They recommend it as a form of treatment based on reviewing two cohort studies with acceptable inclusion criteria.
- A review in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine published in 2010, where it was determined that there is consistent research evidence in relation to TENS and its effectiveness on diabetic neuropathy, concluding that it should be a recommended treatment. This was based on three large studies and one smaller study in which inclusion criteria were met.
- A meta-analysis completed in 2010 that looked at a variety of controlled trials. This determined that mean pain scores after four to six weeks of using TENS had significantly improved in patients with neuropathy. It also noted a significant subjective improvement in pain levels after 12 weeks of treatment. There was no report at all of adverse effects associated with TENS. Hence, the conclusion was that TENS should be considered as a treatment for diabetic neuropathy. The analysis looked at three randomized control studies in which 78 patients met the relevant inclusion criteria.
The pain-numbing benefits of cold-based therapies have been recorded for thousands of years, most famously by the Greek physician Hippocrates. Cryotherapy is used to treat chronic pain as one part of a four-step plan called RICE: “Rest, ice, compression, and elevation.”
Cryotherapy can reduce nervous system activity, and reduce swelling, while lowering skin temperature in a localized area. All of these factors are beneficial to an overall pain management strategy, but their effectiveness is purely short-term, requiring regular (and sometimes lengthy) re-application.
20. Essential Oils For Neuropathy
A number of essential oils for neuropathy are also available, including:
- Essential oils
- Cayenne pepper
- Evening primrose oil
- Botanical oils
- Mustard oil
- Brahmi oil
- Castor oil
However, these are not supported by scientific evidence as of yet and may be due to a placebo effect.
Clearly, there are numerous ways to treat neuropathy and find relief from nerve pain that does not involve pharmaceutical medications. Most people have to try numerous alternative treatments and combinations of different ones before finding something that works for them. It should be noted, however, that it is very important to always speak to a physician before attempting any kind of alternative treatment.