Many of us have experienced severe burning, numbness, and tingling after hitting our “funny bone.” This is caused by trauma to the ulnar nerve at the elbow. Similar discomfort may be brought on by sleeping on an arm or leg in a funny position.
The brain and spinal cord are considered the Central Nervous System. Incoming and outgoing information travel in the nerves of the arm similar to a telephone wire. These nerves are considered the Peripheral Nervous System. Information regarding the environment such as hot, cold, and the position of our pen are carried on sensory nerves. Motor nerves carry bioelectrical information to muscle, resulting in contraction and movement. The other components of this peripheral system are the neuromuscular junction where the nerve meets the muscle and the muscle itself.
Neuropathy is a disorder that prevents nerves from functioning properly. It can cause paralysis if a nerve is completely lacerated, although total paralysis is rare in people with neuropathy. Rather, the disease causes varying degrees of weakness, depending on the type and severity of the neuropathy.
Peripheral neuropathy involves damage to the peripheral nerves that transmit pain and temperature sensations, and can prevent people from sensing that they have been injured from a cut or that a wound is becoming infected. Pain receptors in the skin can also become over-sensitized, so that people may feel severe pain from stimuli that are normally painless (for example, some may experience pain from bed sheets draped lightly over the body).
Returning to the example of hitting your elbow, tingling in your hands is caused by injury to the sensory nerve. If the blow is severe, we may also experience weakness, implying injury to the motor portion of the nerve. In spite of the discomfort, we take solace in the fact that the symptoms are transient and we will soon be back to normal. In some individuals, their motor and sensory problems persist and even progress.
In some cases, neuropathy is caused by heredity, vitamin deficiency, infection, and kidney disease.
Peripheral neuropathy produces symptoms such as weakness, muscle cramps, twitching, pain, numbness, burning, and tingling (often in the feet and hands). Symptoms are related to the type of affected nerve and may be seen over a period of days, weeks, or years. Neuropathic pain is difficult to control and can seriously affect emotional well-being and overall quality of life. Neuropathic pain is often worse at night, seriously disrupting sleep and adding to the emotional burden of sensory nerve damage.
Motor nerve damage causes muscle weakness, and symptoms may include painful cramps and muscle twitching, muscle loss, bone degeneration, and changes in the skin, hair, and nails.
Sensory nerve damage may result in a general sense of numbness, especially in the hands and feet. People may feel as if they are wearing gloves and stockings even when they are not. Damage to these fibers may cause people to become insensitive to injury from a cut or that a wound is becoming infected. Others may not detect pains that warn of impending heart attack or other acute conditions. Pain receptors in the skin can also become oversensitized, so that people may feel severe pain from stimuli that are normally painless (for example, some may experience pain from bed sheets draped lightly over the body).
Neuropathy can be a difficult condition to diagnose. To begin, your doctor will take a full medical history and perform a physical and neurologic exam that may include checking your
Ability to feel certain sensations, and
Neuropathy does not usually clear up unless the underlying problem is relieved or removed. Controlling a chronic condition may not eliminate your neuropathy, but it can play a key role in managing it.
Depending on the cause, neuropathy may be relieved by medications, vitamin supplements, physical or occupational therapy, splinting, or surgery. Here’s what your doctor may recommend for treating various underlying conditions:
Peripheral nerve disorders caused by tumors and traumatic and compressive conditions can sometimes be treated surgically. With regards to diabetic neuropathy, surgeons may consider placing a spinal cord stimulator if a patient has medically-refractory pain.
You have added pages to your clipboard. Please log in or create an account to share them or use later.
You are now being taken to Columbia Neurosurgery's site dedicated to the spine.
Use this button to save pages to your clipboard for future use.OK. Got it.