Your nervous system includes 2 major components—the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system, which serves as a sort of chemical information relay network that allows your brain to communicate with your limbs and organs, and vice versa.
Unfortunately, this relay network is far from impervious to damage. Lifestyle choices, various diseases and disorders, injuries, and other factors can damage the peripheral nerves, causing signals to misfire or even fail to reach the brain entirely. The feet and lower legs are usually the first to be affected, and that can lead to a wide range of complications and problems.
Symptoms and Complications of Peripheral Neuropathy in the Lower Legs
Perhaps the most common indication of peripheral neuropathy is sensation problems in the feet and lower legs (and occasionally the hands as well). This may be experienced as tingling, burning, or jabbing pain, and eventually outright numbness. Other problems you may experience include oversensitivity to touch and lack of coordination, and even muscle weakness if motor nerves have been damaged. You may also find yourself tripping over your own feet.
A lack of sensitivity greatly increases your risk of more serious complications—especially if you also suffer from reduced circulation, which is common with cases of neuropathy, particularly those related to diabetes. Since you can’t depend on your nerves to alert you to problems, you’re far more likely to experience a burn or serious injury, and those injuries are far more likely to develop a serious infection.
Common Causes and Risk Factors of Peripheral Neuropathy
The most prevalent causes of this condition include:
- Diabetes. Peripheral nerve damage is a common consequence of elevated sugar levels associated with diabetes and prediabetes.
- Alcoholism. Alcohol is toxic in large quantities, and excessive intake can alter nerve chemistry and damage nerves.
- Trauma. Auto accidents, sports injuries, or repetitive motions (among others) may damage or even sever nerves.
- Medical conditions. Besides diabetes, other diseases and disorders can cause neuropathy. These include kidney or liver problems, hypothyroidism, tumors, autoimmune problems like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, inherited disorders like Charcot-Marie-Tooth, infections such as shingles or Lyme disease, and others.
- Exposure to certain chemicals. Exposure may be accidental (such as heavy metal or other toxins) or intention (as in some medications, especially cancer treatments).
- Vitamin deficiencies. Various B vitamins, vitamin E, and niacin are particularly important for healthy nerves.
Managing Your Neuropathy and Living a Healthy Life
Unfortunately, if nerve damage is extensive, the condition may not be completely reversible. However, many treatments and therapies exist to help you manage the condition successfully. The goal is to relieve symptoms as much as possible and halt any further progression of the condition.
Healthy lifestyle choices are often at the top of the list—limiting your alcohol intake, quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and getting plenty of exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on your neuropathy symptoms, not to mention your whole-body health.
Those with diabetes especially will have to take great care with protecting and inspecting their feet every day. These foot checks are crucial in identifying any budding problems before they have a chance to worsen, leading to serious injury and/or infection.
Medical treatments that directly address the symptoms of neuropathy might include use of pain relievers or other medications, physical therapy, electrical nerve stimulation, or in certain cases surgery. The best course of action—or more likely, combination of therapies—will depend on the underlying factors contributing to your neuropathy.
At Massapequa Podiatry Associates, Dr. Corey Fox and our entire team are dedicated to helping you relieve your discomfort and retain a healthy, active lifestyle, even with peripheral neuropathy. The sooner you seek help, the more likely we will be able to achieve the best possible outcomes with the lowest level of intervention. Whatever is causing your neuropathy, we have the tools and training to help you manage it, and if necessary put you in touch with other specialists who can provide further assistance. To schedule an appointment at our Long Island podiatry office, please contact us online or dial 516-541-9000.