Top 5 Most Common Neuropathy Treatments

When people have nerve damage, they sometimes develop what is known as “neuropathy”. In the vast majority of cases, this is peripheral neuropathy, which means the nerves in the extremities (arms, feet, and hands) are damaged. It is an incredibly common condition in the elderly, as well as in people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

This condition affects the way the central nervous system communicates with the nerves. These include the sensory nerves, which are used for feeling things such as touch and pain; the motor nerves, which control muscle movement; and the autonomic nerves, which regulate the body’s automatic functions such as bladder function and blood pressure. The symptoms experienced and the treatment they require, will vary depending on which nerves are affected and what has caused nerve damage.

Neuropathy is often a progressive condition. This is why it is very important to seek medical help if you experience muscle weakness in your extremities; loss of coordination and balance; shooting, stabbing, or burning pain in specific areas; or regular tingling and numbness in the hands or feet. This is particularly true if you are also in a high risk category, which includes being elderly, having diabetes, or suffering from a condition that is commonly linked to nerve damage.

The best treatment will depend entirely on the type of neuropathy and its causes. Often, treatment is hit and miss, which means patients have to try numerous forms of treatment before one is found that works for them. That said, certain treatments are offered more regularly and as they have been found to be very effective in many people. Let us take a look at the most common treatments:

1. Prescription Medication

The first step should always be to try over-the-counter medication. When this is no longer effective, or not effective enough, a number of other treatment options are available. If neuropathy is caused by an autoimmune or inflammatory condition, various drugs are available. These include immunosuppressive drugs like azathioprine, cyclosporine, or prednisone.

In some cases, patients may be offered plasmapheresis. This means that their blood is removed and cleaned, taking out antibodies and immune system cells, before being returned. This is quite an invasive procedure, but it can help to suppress immune system activity and reduce inflammation. Alternatively, abnormal immune system activity can be suppressed using immunoglobulins, which are administered intravenously. Medication such as rituximab can also be beneficial.

Not all neuropathy is caused by autoimmune or inflammatory conditions, however. Hence, other forms of medication can also be used, such as:

Antidepressants, which modulate pain by working on the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. Examples include serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibotors like venlafaxine, duloxetine, and desvenlafaxine. Tricyclic antidepressants may also be used, particularly amitriptyline.

  • Anticonvulsants, which affect the peripheral nerves, the brain, and the spinal cord. Examples include carbamazepine, topiramate, pregabalin, and gabapentin.
  • Antiarrythmic medication, including mexiletine, which is particularly beneficial if the the condition is very painful.

Anticonvulsant and antidepressant medications tend to be the most effective. Narcotic agents are usually added if and when any of the above medications are no longer effective, or not effective enough. However, many narcotic agents can lead to the development of dependency and addictions, which is why they are seen as a last resort option.

Interestingly, tapentadol has recently been developed. This is a drug that is a norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor and also has opioid activity. This means it is both an antidepressant and a narcotic agent.

Some people may also benefit from topical medication for pain relief. Commonly, physicians will prescribe capsaicin, which changes the pain receptors in the peripheral nerves and is derived from hot peppers; or lidocaine, which is an anesthetic. Generally, topical medication is only offered if the pain is chronic and localized, which is often seen in people who have herpes zoster (shingles) neuralgia pain.

The main medications that are tried before all others at present are:

  • Amitriptyline, which is used for the treatment of depression and chronic headaches
  • Duloxetine, which is used for the treatment of depression and bladder problems
  • Gabapentin and pregabalin, which is used to treat anxiety, chronic headaches, and epilepsy

2. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an Eastern form of medicine that has been accepted as being effective and is often offered after a diagnosis of a medical condition. Essentially, the sensory nerves, found just under the skin, are stimulated with the use of needles. As a result, the body releases endorphins and other pain-relieving hormones, leading to numerous positive effects.

Usually, patients require sessions of acupuncture if they are to experience sustainable relief. In the Orient, it is believed that acupuncture releases Qi, which is life energy, which flows through the meridians in the body. They believe that all medical conditions are caused by blockages in the Qi, and acupuncture is used to release it.

3. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (T.E.N.S.)

TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. It is a form of noninvasive pain relief treatment that can help with various conditions. It is commonly used, for instance, by pregnant women, even during labor, and by those with chronic back pain. It is also believed to be able to help those with nerve damage.

The machine has a number of electrodes, which are placed on the skin in the areas where the pain is found. Gentle electrical currents are then sent through the electrodes. Clinical trials have not yet been able to fully confirm or deny whether TENS is effective, but some studies have shown that people with peripheral neuropathy, in particular, have been able to benefit from it.

4. Changes in Diet and/or Exercise

It is very important, if you have a neuropathy diagnosis, that you focus on leading a healthy lifestyle. You should make sure that your weight is within the healthy range, that you avoid various toxins, that you eat a nutritious, balanced diet, and that you exercise regularly. You should also avoid alcohol and smoking, as these constrict the blood vessels, and you may want to consider supplementing with certain vitamins and minerals, or try premade formulas like Nerve Renew. Vitamins and minerals may not cure neuropathy, but they may provide significant relief from the symptoms. Additionally, a good diet improves any issues with the gastrointestinal system.

Exercise, meanwhile, can stop muscles from wasting away. Instead, it will strengthen them, thereby also reducing the frequency of cramps. It is important, however, to perform exercises that are suitable to your physical ability.

5. Herbal and Vitamin Supplements

Last but not least, you may want to consider adding herbal and vitamin supplements your diet. Many people with neuropathy, and particularly those who are alcoholics, may want to take vitamin B12 supplements because patients have often been found to have a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Meanwhile, vitamin B1 supplements like benfotiamine, as well as alpha-lipoic acid, which is a type of antioxidant, may also help. Also, some people claim that herbal remedies are effective, although scientific evidence is still lacking.