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Hope and Help For People Suffering From Neuropathy – Integrative Neurology
Sometimes my waiting room looks like a bad B Movie. There are all kinds of poor souls, hardly able to walk. A glazed look on their faces from the heavy doses of medication they use to try to calm their nerve pain. My office is most often the last stop on the train for these people. To say they’ve been everywhere and tried everything is no exaggeration. Their medical records are usually thicker than the Phoenix Metro phone book. They are desperate and cynical. You can’t blame them, though, because the best medical care available did little to help them. They have the unenviable choice between excruciating pain in their feet and legs or a zombie-like drug induced stupor. Not much choice, that’s why they come to see me. For one more “last chance” to get his life back. They hope for one more option next to constant unrelenting pain and the fog of powerful drugs. Their hopes have been raised and crushed many times before, yet they are willing to try one more thing to find some help. They suffer from peripheral neuropathy.
What is neuropathy?
The literal translation of neuropathy means: neuro = pertaining to the nerves and pathy = disease. So, neuropathy then means “diseased nerves”. When nerves get sick people have big problems. The nervous system controls and coordinates all of the body’s functions. It is the communication system that carries information from one part of the body to another. It is what allows organs to communicate and react to changes both within the body and in the external environment in which the body must function.
When nerves are damaged, they either send signals when they shouldn’t, or they don’t send signals when they should. This damages the body’s complex command and control systems by disrupting proper communications between various organs and tissues.
So anything that interferes with the normal communication process within the body has far-reaching negative effects on a person. Simply put, sick nerves mean sick.
Neuropathy can occur anywhere in the body, but is common in the lower extremities and especially the feet. Often the feet are affected first and the symptoms progress up the body. The hands are also often affected. Clinically the classic sign of neuropathy is pain and or numbness in a “glove and stocking” pattern. This means that the patient has problems in his hands and feet.
In severe cases of neuropathy the nerves that control the stomach, heart or other organs can be damaged. This causes all sorts of secondary signs and symptoms, depending on which nerves are damaged and the organs that are controlled by those nerves.
Even when the nerves begin to regenerate, annoying symptoms can appear. As nerves are damaged, they repair by sprouting. These immature nerve shoots, called radicles, are very sensitive. They send signals spontaneously and are very sensitive to stimulation. Even a patient’s clothing touching the skin in the area of these immature rootlets can cause pain. For a patient to obtain good relief, it is essential to help these immature radicles develop and mature to reduce their mechanical sensitivity.
Neuropathy is one of the most common affiliations of the nervous system. Despite the fact that the condition affects so many people, the typical approach to treatment is usually inadequate.
I would like to share with you the stories of two of my patients. They are actual patients, and have agreed to allow me to discuss their cases, but I will still change their names to protect their privacy.
They represent the typical type of neuropathy cases treated in our office. Norb is a vibrant full of life 90 year old. He has been suffering from diabetes for years. He has kept his diabetes under control and is in remarkable health and good spirits. He still drives and is very active in the community. That was until he developed a stinging and burning pain in his feet. Over the next few months his toes turned flaming red. He experienced burning pain at night that he rated 10 over 10 on a pain scale. Then several of his toes developed small ulcers. Needless to say, Norb went to every type of doctor imaginable. His condition worsened until one day he received a dire prognosis from his diabetes specialist. Norb’s toes should be amputated. Norb as you might imagine was devastated.
Norb was also lucky in that he relayed his story to a dental hygienist who happened to be a patient in our office. She told him how we used a simple red laser light to help her with her foot problems. Norb scheduled an appointment for evaluation in a last ditch effort to save his toes.
When I met Norbo, he could hardly stand because of the pain in his feet. He had several ulcers known as diabetic ulcers on these toes and a few more on his shin. The stack of medical records he carried with him was so large that his wife had to carry it. He admitted to me that he had tried so many other treatments and seen so many other doctors; he had little hope that anything could help him. This is an admission I have heard time and time again from our neuropathy patients.
I told Norb that I could not promise him anything, but that I could offer him several types of treatment that were unlike anything he had tried before. I will try to reverse Norb’s neuropathy using a 2000 year old treatment, acupuncture and 21st century, low level laser therapy. I also started him on an herb called Centellia Asiatica, which studies have shown can help nerve tissue regenerate.
We had less than a month to make enough change in Norb’s feet to convince the surgeon not to amputate his toes. Four silver needles were inserted into Norb’s legs at acupuncture points that had been described thousands of years ago. The ulcers in Norb’s toes were “painted” with low-level laser light. We treated Norb every day and by the end of the first week, something remarkable happened. The angry flame red tissue in Norb’s feet changed to a healthy pink color. The sores have crusted over. By the end of the second week Norb’s feet looked as healthy as a 40 year old. His 10 out of 10 pain rating dropped to zero. His surgeon while confused happily canceled his amputation.
It’s been over a year now and Norb has had his neuropathy rear its ugly head several times. Each time, four silver pins as fine as hair and a simple red light tamed the hideous beast.
Neuropathy does not choose the elderly and the sick. It does not spare the young and healthy. I would like to tell you about Joan (name changed again). Joan was a very successful executive secretary in her late forties. One day her legs started to hurt. It was a hassle at first. But it quickly progressed to pain in her feet and legs so excruciating she was incapacitated. The burning and weakness in her legs became so bad that she was put to bed. Like all of our neuropathy patients, she has been to every type of doctor imaginable. She was quickly diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy. Unlike Norb whose neuropathy was secondary to diabetes, the cause of Joan’s neuropathy could not be determined. She is one of a large group of patients diagnosed with idiopathic neuropathy. Or neuropathy of unknown cause or origin. Despite standard medical care, she spiraled downward. She became totally disabled, lost her job and was given a poor prognosis. There was no identifiable cause for her neuropathy, she did not respond to standard treatment and she was likely to continue to deteriorate. She was told to consider the possibility that she would be in a wheelchair before she reached her 50th birthday. The specialist she saw told her there was really nothing he or anyone else could do for her and that she didn’t need to reschedule an appointment with him.
When I first saw Joanna, she wasn’t in a wheelchair, but she should have been. She absolutely could not stand without holding on to someone or something. It took her forever to walk from our waiting room to the treatment room. She was on all kinds of powerful drugs that made it hard for her to concentrate or even carry on a conversation. As is typical, she had a stack of medical records testifying to the futility of previous medical treatments. Neuropathy took her from an independent lady with a high paying job to total disability.
She couldn’t work, she couldn’t relate to her family, she could barely walk, and every specialist she consulted gave her bleak prognosis after bleak prognosis.
I told her about a 2,000-year-old remedy from China that recent studies suggest can improve nerve regeneration. She heard about the good results our other neuropathy patients were getting with the low level laser therapy and acupuncture. She realized that standard medical care had nothing to offer her and she wanted to try these and other forms of alternative medicine. She acknowledged that she had nothing to lose.
Joan’s neuropathy was severe; we gave her a series of natural substances including specific amino acids, Elk Antler Velvet and other nerve growth factors. We used acupuncture and laser and ultrasound and electrical stimulation to stimulate the nerves in her legs. She was very dedicated and we treated her for more than four months.
You should see her today. She is not cured, but she walks quite normally. She goes weeks without severe pain and has been able to stop or reduce many of her pain medications. She plays with her grandchildren and is, as she describes, “closer to normal than anyone could imagine”.
These cases represent what is possible with the integration of alternative medicine with standard medical care. Do all patients with neuropathy respond this way? Unfortunately the answer is no. But alternative medicine and integrative neurology offer tremendous promise to those patients who have exhausted all hope offered by standard medical care.
In addition, modern scientific studies on many alternative interventions document their effectiveness. Offering help and hope for patients suffering from peripheral neuropathy, like Norb and Joan.
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