It is estimated that peripheral neuropathy affects as many as 2.8 million Canadians. Neuropathy – the disease of dysfunction of one or more peripheral nerves, typically presents as a loss of sensation or weakness in the extremities, but can have much more severe ramifications. Neuropathy has over 20 known causes, and at first glance, may seem like a minor annoyance or inconvenience. However, the dangers of chronic neuropathy are anything but minor. Losing sensation in a body part can lead to severe injury and even amputation.
What is Neuropathy?
The body’s nervous system consists of two parts: The Central Nervous System (CNS) and the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS). The PNS transmits messages between the CNS and the rest of the body and regulates a large range of functions, including voluntary muscle movement, involuntary organ activity, and the perception of stimuli. Neuropathy occurs when your peripheral nerves become damaged or disrupted.
What Causes Neuropathy?
While it can be inherited at birth, Neuropathy is most commonly developed later in life. It can be caused by systemic diseases and issues, physical injury or trauma, infectious diseases, or autoimmune disorders.
The most common systemic cause of neuropathy is chronically high blood glucose levels of diabetes, which damages nerves. Other systemic causes include kidney disorders, liver disease, hormonal diseases, heavy metal toxins, vitamin deficiencies (specifically B vitamins), blood diseases, chronic inflammation, alcohol abuse, Cancer, and certain medications (anti-cancer treatments, anticonvulsants, antivirals and antibiotics).
Infections from viruses or bacteria like HIV, Shingles, Epstein-Barr Virus, Lyme Disease, or Diphtheria can cause neuropathy by attacking nerve tissues directly, and various autoimmune disorders like Multiple Sclerosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Guillain-Barré Syndrome or Lupus can lead to nerve damage because the body’s immune system attacks and destroys healthy tissue.
Symptoms & Complications of Neuropathy
Neuropathy often begins benignly – as a tingling sensation in the hand or foot – and then gradually spreads. Depending on the nerves that are affected, much more severe symptoms can develop seemingly quickly. Neuropathies can affect sensory nerves, autonomic nerves, or motor nerves, and symptoms can vary in complexity. Some of the more common symptoms include:
- Muscle pain
- Muscle cramps or twitching
- Muscle loss
- Bone degeneration
- Loss of coordination or balance
- Burning sensations
- Heightened sensitivity to pain or touch, or the inability to feel pain
- Tingling or ‘pins and needles’
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Dizziness or light-headedness, caused by abnormal blood pressure
- Erectile or sexual dysfunction
Managing Neuropathy & Neuropathic Pain
Oftentimes, the key to managing neuropathy is to treat the condition that contributes to it. This can mean changing medications, abstaining from alcohol, treating infections or undergoing surgery. But neuropathy becomes more difficult to manage when the cause is systemic, and correcting the underlying issue isn’t possible. An example of this is diabetic neuropathy, which often causes numbness or an impaired ability to feel pain, usually focused in the feet. Because of this, cuts, blisters, or other injuries can go undetected and become infected with knowledge, leading to potentially catastrophic consequences, even amputation. In cases such as this, it is imperative to inspect the extremities regularly to prevent these from occurring.
Aside from medications & physical therapy, infrared light energy has shown to be beneficial in managing neuropathy and neuropathic pain. Thomas J. Burke, PhD., has studied the effects of light energy of neuropathy since the 90’s. His findings are that not only can infrared light help manage neuropathic pain, it may also be reversed using infrared light energy. He also found that infrared light can decrease the reoccurrence of wound development, and improve sensitivity in patients. However, Dr. Burke isn’t the only one who has come to these findings. In his article for the Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy, Alan B. Kochman concluded that infrared energy “has the potential to improve sensation and balance and to reduce fall frequency.” David R. Leonard, M. Hamed Farooqi, & Sara Myers published the same findings with their article in Diabetes Care. Extensive research has been done on the efficacy of light energy in peripheral neuropathy patients. (You can find some of these articles on our ‘Research’ page under ‘Neuropathy’.)
How Light Energy May Help
Sensory loss due to poor blood flow to nerves is a symptom of peripheral neuropathy. Scientific evidence shows that infrared light triggers the release of nitric oxide from blood vessels and from red blood cells at the site of treatment. Nitric oxide causes local vasodilation that lasts several hours after the treatments cease. Vasodilation improves blood flow and is useful in patients whose peripheral neuropathy is due to poor blood flow.
Improving blood flow lessens what is known as “ischemic” pain and helps nerves to begin to carry sensations again. Patients that have idiopathic neuropathy may not respond to light therapy, whereas others with vascular damage (poor blood flow) often experience relief from the symptoms of neuropathy.
How to Use Light Energy for Neuropathy
When provided by a licensed healthcare provider, light energy is typically given for a minimum of three times a week for 8-12 weeks. This time frame is usually because of the overall patient load at a clinic, or the logistics of getting patients from their residence to a clinic. If treatments can be given more frequently – 4 to 5 times a week – blood flow often improves more quickly and positive outcomes are seen in less time.
Home light energy units are generally used as part of a neuropathy patient’s continuing therapy. A medical practitioner is ideally placed to advise the patient in this area, as not all patients will see continuing benefits from a home unit. Licensed medical practitioners frequently have several tools at their disposal, allowing some patients, that may otherwise be unresponsive, to benefit from a combination of therapies.
Use of light energy at home allows the patient to use it more frequently than otherwise would occur if they had to travel to a clinic.
For more information on using light energy at home, we welcome you to contact us.
If you are interested in trying light energy in a clinical setting, we suggest giving LED Quantum Light Therapy a call. Their welcoming and knowledgeable practitioners will be able to answer all your questions.
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Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice and should not be construed as such. Light devices are not intended to cure, treat, or prevent any disease or illness. If you have a disease or illness, consult with your physician or health care provider prior to using any light device. Use only as directed by manufacturer.