Have you ever felt a strong tingling sensation or pain after hitting your “funny bone” (elbow) on something? This sensation is part of your peripheral nervous system signaling your brain that something is not right.
Your brain and your spinal cord make up your central nervous system. From this central system nerves branch off into the rest of your body, including into your hands and feet.
These nerves make up the peripheral nervous system. They send signals back to your central nervous system to let your brain know about things you’re feeling, such as temperature, sensation and position.
If you touch something that is hot enough to damage your skin, your peripheral nerves send that information back to the brain quickly enough that your brain can send the command to pick your hand up to stop the burning.
Pain, tingling and numbness are all signals that our nerves use to tell the brain something is not right, and that action may need to be taken to prevent damage.
When there is a problem with the nerve itself, these signals do not work properly. A damaged nerve might result in numbness, which keeps pain warning signs from getting through to the brain. You might burn or cut yourself and not realize it.
Or, the nerve might keep sending out signals of a tingling or burning sensation, even though it isn’t being stimulated at the time.
When this happens it is called peripheral neuropathy, or peripheral nerve pain syndrome.
Peripheral neuropathy can happen as a result of disease or injury. Symptoms usually include sensations of burning or tingling (especially in the feet or hands), pain, numbness or weakness—but the symptoms are different depending on which nerve is involved. It can be difficult to diagnose and treat.
Dr. Christopher Winfree of the Peripheral Nerve Center specializes in treating this type of nerve damage. To see him in action, you can follow this link to watch Dr. Winfree on an episode of The Cure, a medical show created by the Al Jazeera Network.
Besides running the Peripheral Nerve Center, Dr. Winfree is an Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery at Columbia and is heavily involved in teaching about management of nerve disorders and neurological pain. This fall he attended the annual meeting of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS) as a faculty member for the forum on “Management of Peripheral Nerve Pain Syndromes.”
You can learn more about Dr. Winfree’s work and past presentations at the following links:
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