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Nerve Damage: Cause and Treatment

Updated on October 11, 2012

Nerve damage (neuropathy) usually occurs when the protective outer covering of nerve cells degenerate. This protective covering is called the myelin sheath. Without it, electrical signals can’t be transferred correctly. It’s kind of like stripping the covering off an electrical wire and getting a short circuit. Pain, tingling, burning sensation, numbness and weakness in muscles and constipation are some of the symptoms of nerve damage. What causes it, can nerves be healed and can relief be found?

All functions of the body are controlled by the nervous system. The nervous system essentially consists of either the central or peripheral nervous system. The central system is associated with the brain and spinal cord. The peripheral system works with the help of nerve networks from the spinal cord to arms, hands, legs and feet. As nerve damage worsens, areas not receiving signals from the nerves will result in numbness pain and tingling. It is diabetics mostly suffering from these sensations. High blood sugar levels create the damage.

Nerve damage can occur from numerous causes. Any kind of nerve compression can result in nerve damage. For example, a pinched nerve or crush injury. Other causes can include:

  • Carpal tunnel
  • Various medications and toxic drugs
  • Cancer and radiation treatment
  • Autoimmune diseases like myasthenia gravis and multiple sclerosis
  • Infections such as HIV and hepatitis

There are basically three classifications of nerves:

  • Autonomic: Involves involuntary functions stemming from the spinal cord to the lungs, heart, stomach, intestines, bladder and sex organs.
  • Motor: Controls voluntary functions
  • Sensory: Fundamentally maintains communication between the autonomic and motor nerves.

However, there are many other reasons nerve damage may occur such as:

  • Alcoholism
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Bell's Palsy
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Chemotherapy Treatment
  • Chronic kidney failure
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Toxic foods
  • Herniated disc
  • Liver failure
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Zinc induced copper deficiency (denture adhesive creams)

Chronic neuropathy can get to a point people can hardly bear the pain and are unable to walk or pick things up. There are many reasons. High blood pressure medication can cause neuropathy by decreasing blood flow at the extremities, like the feet or hands. Free radicals in the blood stream attach themselves to oxygen making it unavailable to cells. But, there are other causes and sometimes a combination of factors. Many medications have side effects that can contribute to damaging nerves. A partial list can be found at:

Some common cholesterol reducing drugs (statins) can eat away the myelin sheath, composed mostly of cholesterol. In other words these drugs lower cholesterol which the body needs to maintain the myelin sheath.

There are over 100 types of neuropathy pain, each with its own set of symptoms, development and impairments. It depends on the type of nerves damaged. Some may experience numbness, tingling, and pricking sensations, sensitivity to touch, or muscle weakness. Others may suffer more extreme symptoms, such as burning or shooting pain, muscle wasting, paralysis, or organ and glandular dysfunction. Nerve damage symptoms are usually slight at first and some milder cases may go unnoticed for a long time.

Vitamins B and E are known to be helpful in healing damaged nerves. Vitamin B is known to regenerate the myelin sheath surrounding nerves. Soy milk, taken daily, has also been found beneficial.

Physicians may prescribe tricyclic antidepressants and anticonvulsant drugs that are helpful in increasing sensitivity and easing nerve damage pain. They may also advise physical therapy, manual manipulation, electrical stimulation or heat massages. Some have found acupuncture therapies helpful. Creating all new nerves from nano sized nerve parts is rapidly becoming another option.

A doctor will usually advise natural treatments first for relief but consult a doctor if you are not able to get relief from the pain. Some common cholesterol reducing drugs (statins) can eat away the myelin sheath, composed mostly of cholesterol. In other words these drugs lower cholesterol which the body needs to maintain the myelin sheath. Whatever treatment one opts for, giving proper rest to the affected part is important.

Diabetic neuropathy can flare up suddenly and affect specific nerves causing double vision, drooping eyelids and atrophy of the thigh muscles. Loss of sensation in feet may result in foot injuries going unnoticed allowing them to develop into ulcers or infected lesions. Cigarettes and alcohol are also known to aggravate the condition. Both slow blood flow throughout the body causing a lack of nutrients and oxygen. Peripheral neuropathy affects over 20 million people in the United States alone.

Most often neuropathy treatments merely cover up the symptoms and sometimes medications actually aggravate the problem. The only way to correctly heal neuropathy is to address the causes, not the symptoms. It is known vitamin B1 (thiamine) is effective. Unfortunately, oral intake of the vitamin doesn’t greatly increase the levels of B1 in the blood stream because thiamine, like all of B vitamins, is water-soluble. It cannot be stored or readily absorbed in the body and flushes out within 4 to 5 hours.

However, recently a fat-soluble version of vitamin B1 called Benfotiamine has been produced that won’t flush out of the body the way ordinary thiamine does. Likewise, another product, Methylcobalamine (called Methyl B12) can be directly utilized by the body.

Of course, there are the usual standby treatments such as topical creams, analgesics and homeopathic remedies.


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    • profile image

      112Easttroy 4 years ago

      Did you feel it on another part of the leg or on another body part?

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      I'm not a physician, so I can't explain that...

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I was in an accident years ago and both sides of both legs were affected. I can touch one part of my leg, and feel it in another part.