Neuropathy is a condition that causes nerve-related symptoms like pain, tingling, numbness, burning sensations and muscle weakness. Neuropathy can occur anywhere, and when it involves the hands or feet, it's referred to as peripheral neuropathy or peripheral neuritis. Neuropathy often occurs as a result of a traumatic injury or from a repetitive use injury. Carpal tunnel syndrome is an example of a neuropathy due to repetitive strain. Other neuropathies can be caused by underlying diseases like diabetes or multiple sclerosis or conditions like bone spurs. Herniated discs and other issues affecting the spine also can result in neuropathic pain, and some medications and toxic exposures can cause symptoms.
The first step in diagnosing the cause of neuropathic pain is a physical exam with passive and active exercises and gentle palpations to determine the genesis of painful symptoms. In some cases, nerve conduction studies may be ordered to determine which nerve pathways are involved. Diagnostic imaging test and lab tests also may be ordered depending on the symptoms that are present. Because neuropathies can have a variety of causes, having an accurate diagnosis is the key to ensuring patients receive the most effective treatment to provide long-term relief.
Nerve conduction studies use very small currents of electricity transmitted through the skin to cause muscles to contract and relax. By moving electrodes along the skin, different nerves can be stimulated to help identify the nerves involved in causing pain and other symptoms.
Treatment of neuropathy begins with conservative measures like physical therapy, oral pain medications and anti-inflammatory medications and injections near the site of nerve involvement to anesthetize pain and reduce inflammation that may be irritating nerves. When these conservative approaches aren't effective in achieving long-term relief of symptoms or when symptoms recur, surgery may be needed to address underlying issues and relieve nerve compression and impingement.
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