The Nervous System is made up of two parts
1. Central Nervous system which includes the brain and spinal cord
2. Peripheral Nervous System which connects the nerves running from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body (arms and hands, legs and feet, internal organs, joints, eyes, ears, nose and skin.
Peripheral Nerves have their own function:
· Sensory Nerves carry information about sensations e.g. pain and touch. Sensors in the skin help people identify whether an object is sharp, rough, smooth, hot or cold, still or moving
· Motor Nerves are responsible for transmitting messages which control muscles like switching on or turning off contractions. This allows activities like walking, catching a ball or moving the hand and fingers to pick something up.
· Autonomic Nerves are responsible for regulating automatic body functions like blood pressure and bladder function.
A peripheral neuropathy occurs when the peripheral nerves are damaged or destroyed and they are unable to transmit messages from the brain and spinal cord to the arms, hands, legs and feet.
Motor nerve damage can lead to muscle weakness, difficulty walking or moving the arms, cramps and spasms.
Sensory nerve damage often results in tingling, numbness, pain and extreme sensitivity to touch.
Autonomic nerve damage may cause a person heartbeat to go faster or slower, they may get dizzy when standing up, sweat excessively or have difficulty sweating at all. It may cause difficulty in swallowing, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, urination, abnormal pupil size and sexual dysfunction.
Most people presenting with a neuropathy have a POLYNEURPOPATHY where multiple nerves are affected. Other people might experience a MONONEUROPATHY which is usually the result of damage to a single nerve or nerve group caused by trauma, injury, local compression, prolonged pressure or inflammation.
For some people the cause of the neuropathy is unknown, and this is called idiopathic neuropathy. However, there are many known causes: diabetes, chemo-induced abnormalities, toxic neuropathy (exposure to toxic chemicals) poor nutrition, kidney failure, chronic alcoholism and certain medications.
Treatment for a peripheral neuropathy very much depends on the symptoms and underlying cause. In diabetes as an example the underlying diabetes needs to be managed to prevent greater nerve damage from occurring and to prevent secondary complications from developing.
Physiotherapists can help people with a peripheral neuropathy, this is often in relation to situations where mobility and control of movements is impaired.