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What is peripheral neuropathy?

This disorder can cause burning, tingling and prickling, and sometimes leads to muscle weakness. Treatment focuses on the underlying cause.

Peripheral neuropathy is a common problem caused by damage to the nerves.

In most cases it affects the hands and feet, according to the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy. Symptoms include pain, numbness, weakness, and burning, tickling or tingling sensations.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, peripheral neuropathy can have several different causes, including:

  • Diabetes.
  • Pressure or injury to the nerves from carpal tunnel syndrome, tumors, broken bones, a ruptured disc or other injuries.
  • Poor nutrition.
  • Alcoholism or smoking.
  • Problems with blood vessels or connective tissues, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and other systemic autoimmune diseases.
  • Infections, including the virus that causes chickenpox and shingles; Lyme disease; and HIV.  

Treatment depends on what caused the problem. For example, if you have peripheral neuropathy caused by diabetes, treatment will involve controlling the diabetes. If a tumor or ruptured disc is the cause, surgery may be necessary.

Other possible treatments include splints or physical therapy to help prevent pressure on the nerves and keep the muscles and joints working well.

Medication may also be prescribed to help ease the pain caused by neuropathy.

It may take a while to recover from peripheral neuropathy, but it is possible. In the worst cases, peripheral neuropathy could cause permanent problems such as chronic muscle weakening.

Reviewed 11/17/2022

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