Peripheral neuropathy is damage to nerve cells outside the brain. Although the autonomic nervous system – the nerves that innervate our internal organs – is also located in the periphery, when we talk about peripheral neuropathy, we are usually referring to the nerves responsible for movement and sensation.
Nerves that carry the sensory signal from the receptors to the brain are more sensitive to disease and toxicity than those involved in movement. Therefore, a change in sensation is the most common symptom when disease or toxicity has damaged nerves. However, trauma often affects both sensation and movement.
The most common non-traumatic causes are diabetic neuropathy and neuropathy due to the toxic effects of chemotherapy drugs. In fact, with chemotherapy, neuropathy can sometimes be severe enough to limit the dose of anti-cancer drugs.
Neurons, or nerve cells, are very different from other cells in the body. They do not multiply after birth. This means that the number of nerve cells in our nerves remains constant throughout our lives. But as we grow, they become longer. Put simply, nerve cells are not very good at growing and healing themselves.
So the critical question is, if a person has neuropathy, can he or she be treated? Well, the answer is yes, it can be treated, but it cannot always be cured. Therefore, preventing the progression of the disease remains the hallmark of any therapy targeting neuropathy.
How Do We Treat Neuropathy?
The most important thing in treating any type of neuropathy is to treat or, if possible, cure the underlying cause. For example, in diabetes, it is important to keep blood sugar levels under control. In vitamin B12 deficiency, it would be essential to give the vitamin tablets or injections. If the neuropathy is caused by a drug, the drug should be stopped if possible, usually after weighing up the risks and benefits.
There are also a large number of medications that can help relieve pain or other symptoms of nerve damage. These drugs usually need to be taken for a long time, and in some cases for life if the nerve cells are too damaged to repair themselves.
If the neuropathy is caused by trauma, the injury will be treated according to its location and type. Take anti-inflammatory therapy. Surgical correction may be necessary.
Can the Nerve Fibers Grow?
Well, yes, as we said, they would not multiply in number, but they can grow a bit. Normally a broken nerve fibre can grow at the rate of about 1mm per day. So if the trauma is not very severe, these fibres can slowly grow back and a person can eventually regain movement and sensation.
Natural remedies have a special place in the treatment of peripheral neuropathies. Most natural remedies nourish and feed nerve cells with vital elements, which can speed up recovery. Although this is a slow process, it is often the only way to heal the weak and damaged nerve.
But there is a limit to how long the nerve fibre can grow. If the trauma is severe and a significant part of the nerve cell has been lost, it may not be able to reach its destination and therefore not be able to repair itself.
This does not mean that there is no progress in science. Scientists are looking at ways to grow nerves both inside and outside the body. They are looking at different growth factors. They are looking at ways of fertilising the nerve cells with growth factors, guiding them, showing them the way, so that they can regrow and reconnect in the expected way.
At present, science has had limited success in accelerating the growth of damaged nerve cells. So most treatment is focused on preventing neuropathy, or at least slowing its progression. And treating the symptoms so that a person can live as close to a healthy life as possible.