WHAT IS NEUROPATHY? WHAT IS PERIPHERAL NEUROPATHY?
Neuropathy is defined as a disease of the nervous system. Peripheral neuropathy is used to mean a degenerative condition of the peripheral nerves, typically the lower extremities (usually the legs from the knees to the feet) and occasionally the upper extremities (usually the arms from the wrists to the fingers).
Peripheral neuropathy is most often a slow and gradual dying of the peripheral sensory or afferent nerves. The peripheral motor or efferent nerves are only occassionally affected. A simple way to understand the different nerves is that when you touch a hot stove it’s your sensory or afferent nerves that tell the brain that it’s hot. You brain then transmits a signal along your motor or efferent nerves that control the hand and arm muscles that move your hand away from the hot stove.
Of special note is that about 90% of all peripheral neuropathy cases are a result of the nerve cells being unable to obtain adequate oxygen (hypoxia) and the essential nutrients to survive and thrive. The other 10% is caused by physical trauma.
What happens when a nerve cell doesn’t receive adequate oxygen and nutrients is that a demineralization of the synaptic fluid occurs which decreases the conductivity of the electrical signals (communication) between the nerves. This then causes the nerve cells to begin to shrink (called atrophy) and the gap between the nerve cells to widen. As the gap between the nerve cells widens, it becomes more and more difficult for normal sensations to travel to their neighboring nerve cells.
WHAT CAUSES THE NUMBNESS, TINGLING AND CHRONIC PAIN YOU SUFFER WITH?
As the ability of the sensory nerves to transmit information decreases due to this cellular atrophy, the nerve signals must now try to jump a larger gap through a less conductive medium.
The sensations that our bodies feel that are associated with the widening nerve gap and the loss of the nerve to transmit properly tends to follow a similar pattern in all of us.
Our first perception associated with atrophied nerves and their enlarged synaptic gaps is a tingling as some of the normal signals are misdirected to nearby nerves. Over time as the neuropathy condition progresses, the tingling happens more often. Eventually more signals are misdirected than properly broadcast and the sensation then turns to one of pain.Eventually, the nerve signals can no longer be transmitted and numbness becomes the primary complaint.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN MY LEGS GO NUMB?
A secondary effect of neuropathy is to reduce the strength of the calf muscles which then reduces the blood flow to the lower extremities. This reduced blood flow to the muscles in conjunction with the lack of communication between the sensory nerves and the brain, often results in poor tissue perfusion, insecure or shaky gait, a loss of balance causing you to stumble and fall, cuts and sores that don’t heal or other mobility issues.
WHAT CAUSES PERIPHERAL NEUROPATHY?
DIABETES MELLITUS: Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is the most common type of peripheral neuropathy in America. There are an estimated 29.1 million Americans with diabetes and it is estimated that approximately 60-70% of them have peripheral neuropathy. This leads to about 20 million diabetics who have peripheral neuropathy.
Poorly managed and under managed diabetic peripheral neuropathy is the number one cause of non-traumatic lower limb amputations in the United States.
- Nearly 54,000 diabetics have limb amputations each year
- About 75% of limb amputations are preventable
The numbers of diabetics suffering from peripheral neuropathy are so high because many of the people who suffer from diabetes mellitus develop a degeneration of the metabolic cellular functions including the ability to exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide which leads to decreased circulatory efficiency.
Consider that the feet are the furthest points from the heart, which is the central pump of the circulatory system. The blood must travel further from the heart to the feet than from the heart to the stomach or head (which are both closer to the heart). This means that not only does it take longer for the blood to reach the feet but that the blood that does reach the feet has been depleted of much of its oxygen and key nutrients that the cells need to survive and instead is loaded with carbon dioxide and other metabolic waste products from the cells it passed earlier on its journey.
Additionally, the blood that is in the feet now has to fight against gravity and make it way uphill to return to the heart. As we all learned in school, liquid doesn’t flow uphill against gravity. Instead, liquid has to be pumped uphill.
CHEMOTHERAPY: The standard treatment developed for cancer over the last forty years or so is called chemotherapy. This treatment works by using drugs and radiation to poison the body and kill off cells as they divide. The hope is that since cancer cells divide at a faster rate than normal cells the cancer cells will die at a faster rate than normal cells and the body as a whole will survive the treatment.
Unfortunately, the chemical agents (drugs) they use also kill off healthy cells. Most cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy lose the hair on their scalp. This happens because hair follicles grow and divide faster than most other cells leading to a higher mortality rate which leads to the hair loss.
Chemotherapy drugs also cause peripheral neuropathy in about one third of the patients who undergo treatment. This is due to two reasons. First, many of the drugs used to treat the various types of cancer have known and pronounced neurotoxic properties (other environmental toxins, pollutants and insecticides are also considered neurotoxins) which can cause the synaptic junction between nerve cells to degenerate and widen as well as have other negative effects on the nerves and brain cells. Second, even though nerve cells do not reproduce as fast as cancer cells do, they change electrical states quickly and are mistaken for fast growing cancer cells and therefore become susceptible to the killing effects of the chemotherapy drugs.
Trauma: Trauma is a of the major causes of neuropathy and chronic pain, and results when the nerves myelin sheath is cut or etched away by chemotherapy drugs, environmental toxins, poorly performed injections, or from amputations and accidents.
Lumbar Trauma: Trauma to the lumbar area of the back can be another cause of neuropathy and chronic pain. This trauma can be as slight as lifting a bag of groceries out of the trunk, picking up a grandchild, or bending down to tie a shoe. Our studies show a 60% correlation between repeated injuries to the lower back and subsequent development of neuropathy and chronic pain symptoms. During the acute phase of localized trauma, inflammation develops reducing arterial and venous blood to the lumbar synaptic junctions. Nerves in the region temporarily shrink due to the reduction in activity. Since the body tends to conserve resources, the affected nerves begin to atrophy, the synaptic junction gap begins to widen, and synaptic minerals leech away making signal transmission more difficult. Signals of normal strength can no longer cross synapses that are damaged by the reduction in blood flow. The loss of signals across the synapses compounds the process of deterioration. Muscle atrophy and a host of other problems follow. We have found that a signal delivered at 7.83 cycles per second (the body's natural electromagnetic resonant frequency) and at an amplitude approximately 10 times that originally required will cross these enlarged synapses, repolarize them.
Cardiovascular Disease: By reducing the amount of blood that can perfuse the tissue of the lower legs and feet, cardiovascular disease can also cause neuropathy and chronic pain. When the arteries and veins become blocked, blood flow is reduced. One of the first symptoms is intermittent claudication which results in a reduction in the distance a patient can walk before the onset of localized leg pain due to reduced oxygen availability. Therefore, the muscle cells switch from aerobic metabolism to using anaerobic metabolism thereby creating greater than normal amounts of lactic acid, the by-product of muscle metabolism. The increased lactic acid collects in the cells causing inflammation and pain.
Hypertension (High Blood Pressure): Many people beginning in their 40’s and older will become hypertensive. This means that the person suffers from essential hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure.
A large number of people are untreated because they don’t know they have hypertension and some who are under a doctor’s care whose symptoms are not yet severe enough to warrant treatment.
The trend with these people is that their blood pressure will continue to rise as they age. Eventually, as their condition worsens, those that are under a doctor’s care will begin a treatment program to control their condition.
Some will continue to worsen even with the treatment and will require a more extreme level of prescription drugs which can result in a significant and rapid drop in blood pressure, which can result in the sudden development of peripheral neuropathy.
High blood pressure medication not only lowers blood pressure, it also reduces the ability of the arterial blood to refill the veins. This vacancy results as the venous muscle pumps the blood back to the heart. When this occurs the blood has a tendency to pool in the lower extremities; the nerves and synaptic junctions do not have enough necessary nutrition and oxygen to maintain their health resulting in nerve cell atrophy, loss of mineralization, and conductivity of the synaptic junctions as explained above.
Psychoactive Drug Therapy: These drugs, used to reduce anxiety or seizures, have the effect of reducing the intensity/frequency of all nerve signals. This, too, can result in loss of motor and sensory nerve function. These conditions can result in impaired mobility and balance issues due to the loss of muscle strength. Whenever overactive nerves that might be causing psychological problems are depressed, they depress borderline poorly functioning nerves as well.