Treating Nerve Damage with Physical Therapy

There’s a lot that can go wrong with our nervous systems, and the impacts can range from annoying to frightening or even incapacitating. Most commonly, we’re dealing with some peripheral neuropathy—any disease or damage affecting nerves outside the central nervous system. But there are so many causes and manifestations of nerve damage that it’s impossible to narrow down a single treatment that covers it all.

 

Peripheral Neuropathy Classifications

We can broadly break down peripheral neuropathy into one of two types: mononeuropathy or polyneuropathy. 

  • Mononeuropathy involves damage to a single peripheral nerve. This often results from physical injury or trauma. Mononeuropathy can be due to a sudden accident or prolonged pressure, or continuous, repetitive motions (think carpal tunnel syndrome as one example).
  • Polyneuropathy involves damage to multiple peripheral nerves. Polyneuropathy is far more common than mononeuropathy. Possible causes include diabetes, poor nutrition, alcohol abuse, kidney failure, and cancer.

 

Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy

Common symptoms include a tingling or burning feeling, weakness, numbness, pain, or even loss of sensation in the arms or legs.

Neuropathy can also affect nerves in the core, not just the extremities. In this case, complications can arise in diarrhea, constipation, loss of bladder control, sexual dysfunction, low blood pressure, heart rhythm problems, and even difficulty breathing.

A comparison of a healthy nerve cell and a damaged nerve cell.

 

Treatment Options

The first step toward treating any neuropathy is diagnosing the cause. You’ll need to visit your doctor right away, and you may be referred to one or more specialists. Certain serious neuropathies, such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, are rare but treatable when discovered early.

In other cases, neuropathy is a side effect of other problems—such as cancer or diabetes or kidney or thyroid disease—that need their own treatments.

And then there are other possibilities: Alcoholism? Poor nutrition? Infection? Auto-immune disorder? Side effects of the medication? Chemotherapy?

All of these and more could be the underlying cause of peripheral neuropathy—and each cause comes with its own unique set of complications, prognoses, and treatment options.

 

What Role Does Physical Therapy Play in Peripheral Neuropathy?

Few of the causes of peripheral neuropathy listed above—other than injury—are traditionally targeted by physical therapy techniques, which rely on non-invasive, non-medicated treatments.

However, physical therapy benefits can be beneficial for two symptoms resulting from neuropathy: pain and muscular strength loss.

A physical therapist can help develop a treatment plan to address these issues. Possible types of exercises for nerve damage include:

  • Nerve gliding exercises. Certain exercises can “glide” the nerves to promote nourishment and healing.
  • Moderate intensity exercise. General strengthening and strengthening of specific muscles are important to counter the effects of nerve damage and manage your pain points.
  • Balance and coordination. In some cases, nerve damage can increase your risk of falls. A physical therapist can help with strategies and exercises to improve your balance and coordination.
  • Bracing. Certain nerve conditions can benefit from bracing to improve function, prevent further damage, and reduce pain.

 

Treatment with PrePak

In addition to physical therapy for nerve damage, you might consider visiting an occupational therapist, who can help with strategies for coping with any loss of function affecting your work or daily life. As always, check out PrePak’s products to see what will help you on your physical therapy journey.