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Neuropathy and Acupuncture



Edited by Dr. Qinghong Han A.P.

Peripheral neuropathy is a syndrome in which the nerves enervating the extremities are damaged. The word "peripheral" means "extremities", and "Neuro" means "nerve" and "pathy" means "suffering or disease." Generally, the sensory nerves are most affected, causing sensations of pain, tingling and numbness. At times the motor nerves are affected, causing problems with movement. In the most common type of neuropathy, the feet are affected first, and the pain and numbness can then progress up the leg. In other cases, the hands can be affected first, with pain progressing up the arms. The pain can often be quite intense. When numbness is severe, the patient's proprioception is affected, meaning that he or she does not receive sufficient sensory feedback from the feet or hands to allow comfortable walking or use of the hands.

The Neuropathy Association estimates that over 20 million people, or 1 in 15 in the U.S., have some form of neuropathy. There are many types of peripheral neuropathy: drug-induced neuropathy includes chemotherapy, and HIV patients with medications; while peripheral neuropathy from trauma includes radiation, injury or surgery. Another type is secondary to diabetes, stroke or other diseases. Finally, idiopathic neuropathy means nobody knows what the cause is.

Currently Western medicine does not have an effective treatment for peripheral neuropathy. Some medications (anti-depressant and anti-seizure medications) may relieve symptoms, but a lot of patients cannot tolerate the side effects. However, acupuncture can help treat Peripheral neuropathy and relieve pain. Generally speaking, acupuncture is very effective for most patients with this condition with different causes. Several clinical studies and my clinical experience have shown that the use of acupuncture for the treatment of peripheral neuropathy is very encouraging.

Acupuncture is helpful for this condition because it may increase the blood flow in the limbs, and the peripheral mechanisms possibly involved may include other types of fibers. There are small unmyelinized or thinly myelinized fibers commonly believed to be undetected by nerve conduction studies. Also, the symptomatic effect of acupuncture may reflect morphologic changes in the anatomy of peripheral nerves and also complex derangements of central and peripheral regulation.

Because of the minimal side effects with acupuncture compared to pharmaceutical treatment options, acupuncture should be considered as a reasonable treatment option for symptoms of neuropathy. In my experience, I usually give six sessions of acupuncture for this condition in one month, and then I evaluate the effectiveness. Most patients started to feel less pain, more energy and sleep better after the third treatment. Most patients need to have a maintenance treatment at least once a month after six sessions. I have effectively treated many patients with neuropathy in my clinic.