Peripheral Neuropathy and Acupuncture

Human nervous system showing peripheral nerves

What is Peripheral Neuropathy?

Peripheral Neuropathy (PN) refers to the many conditions that result from damage to the peripheral or distal nervous system. Those nerves are part of the network that sends signals in both directions between the central nervous system that is made up of the brain and spinal cord, and every other part of the body. These nerves send sensory information to the central nervous system (CNS). An example is the message that your feet are cold or hot. They also carry other signals from the CNS to the muscles that tell them to contract. This enables controlled movement.  

The symptoms of PN include:

It has been estimated that more than 20 million people in the U.S. have some form of Peripheral Neuropathy. Proportionally that would mean that there would be at least 1.6 million Australians suffering from it. The majority of those would have it consequential to either Diabetes or from the side effects of drugs such as Chemotherapy. These cases are known as ‘Acquired’ PN. There is another group that what is known as Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy where it occurs for no known reason. There are some cases that are genetic in origin.

How does it occur?

  • Acquired Peripheral Neuropathy causes include:
  • Diabetes as the leading cause of the U.S., about 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes have mild to severe forms of Neuropathy. This can include numbness, tingling and weakness of the feet and lower legs, or burning sensations in the feet, or weakness of the trunk or pelvis.
  • Trauma, from automobile accidents, falls, sports injury can result in stretching compressing or crushing the nerves somewhere between the spine and the affected part. Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common form of Neuropathy from a compressed nerve at the wrist.
  • Circulation and blood disorders that decrease oxygen supply to the peripheral nerves can lead to nerve tissue damage. Smoking, and narrowing of the arteries from high blood pressure or fatty deposits on the inside of blood vessel walls (atherosclerosis) can also lead to Neuropathy.
  • Autoimmune diseases, hormonal imbalances and Kidney or Liver diseases can affect the peripheral nerves through resulting toxins.  For example, most dialysis patients because of their kidney failure will develop varying levels of PN.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency and excess vitamin B6 are the best-known vitamin-related PN..  
  • Some cancers and benign tumors cause PN in various ways.
  • Chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer lead to PN in an estimated 30 to 40 percent of patients. Radiation therapy also can also result in nerve damage.
  • Viral infections such as shingles can attack nerve tissues and cause PN. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, can damage either or both the central and peripheral nervous systems. An estimated 30 percent of people who are HIV-positive develop PN.

Can Acupuncture help?

Peripheral Neuropathies are not simple diseases to treat successfully. It is a common problem in certain groups of patients. Dr Ryan has specifically kept a long-time interest in the condition and researched the various acupuncture approaches that have been used.

One of the most convincing scientific studies into the effectiveness of acupuncture in PN related to Diabetes, appeared in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, (JAMS) Volume 10, Issue 2, April 2017, Pages 90-95. “Acupuncture Treatment of Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy in an American Indian Community”.

Twenty-five patients were seen at a Southern California Tribal Health Centre who had reported a threshold level of diabetic Neuropathy symptoms in the lower extremities during the previous 4 weeks, received acupuncture treatment once per week over a 10-week period between 2011 and 2013.

Taken from the Abstract: The aim of this study was to assess the effectiveness of acupuncture treatment for DPN symptoms and lower extremity arterial circulation in people with type 2 diabetes. Twenty-five patients seen at a Southern California Tribal Health Centre who reported a threshold level of diabetic neuropathy symptoms in the lower extremities during the previous 4 weeks received acupuncture treatment once per week over a 10-week period between 2011 and 2013. The Neuropathy Total Symptom Scale (NTSS-6), Neuropathy Disability Score (NDS), and laser Doppler fluxmetry (LDF) were used for assessment at baseline and 10 weeks. A total of 19 of 25 study participants completed the study and reported a significant reduction in the NTSS symptoms of aching pain, burning pain, prickling sensation, numbness, and allodynia. Lancinating pain did not decrease significantly.

The acupuncture point combinations used were ‘individualized’ and relevant to each patient’s particular symptoms in a manner that would reflect real-world practice.  The Acupuncture needle insertion sensation known as DeQi, was confirmed by patient feedback and needles were left in place for 30 minutes. All treatments were carried out by one researcherThe acupoints used in this study are well known to Dr Ryan and form the basis of one of his approaches to Neuropathy patient care.

Dr Ryan is skilled and trained in many forms of Acupuncture including, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Five Element Acupuncture (5E), Channel Acupuncture, Eight Extraordinary Vessell Acupuncture (8EV), Chinese scalp Acupuncture (CSA), Yamamoto New Scalp Acupuncture (YNSA) Auricular Acupuncture. Each of these approaches can be of benefit to PN cases. He has also studied a more recent approach to PN known as 5 Needle Acupuncture for cases of PN affecting the lower legs and feet.

Sessions are generally weekly to begin, spreading with effect, and the response to each needle insertion is assessed and compared to the previous session results.

Image of nervous system above is courtesy by brgfx on Freepik