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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, barely able to walk. A glazed look on their faces from the high doses of drugs 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 generally thicker than the Phoenix Metro phone book. They are desperate and cynical. You can’t blame them, though, because the best medical care available didn’t do much to help them. They have the unenviable choice between horrible pain in their feet and legs or a zombie-like drug-induced stupor. Not really a choice, that’s why they come to see me. For one more “last chance” to get their lives back. They hope for one more option next to the constant, relentless pain and the fog of powerful drugs. Their hopes have been high and dashed many times before, but they’re willing to try one more thing to find relief. They suffer from peripheral neuropathy.
What is neuropathy?
The literal translation of neuropathy means: neuro = relating to the nerves and pathy = disease. So, neuropathy then means “disease nerves”. When nerves get sick, people are in big trouble. The nervous system controls and coordinates all functions of the body. It is the communication system that carries information from one part of the body to another. It is what allows the organs to communicate and react to changes both inside the body and in the external environment in which the body must function.
When nerves are damaged, they either send signals when they’re not supposed to, or they don’t send signals when they should. It wreaks havoc on the complex command and control systems of the body by suppressing proper communications between various organs and tissues.
So, anything that interferes with the normal communication process in the body has tremendous negative effects on a person. To put it simply, sick nerves means a sick person.
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 symptoms progress throughout the body. The hands are also frequently affected. Clinically, the classic sign of neuropathy is pain and/or numbness in a “glove and stocking” pattern. This means that the patient has hand and foot problems.
In severe cases of neuropathy, the nerves that control the stomach, heart, or other organs may be damaged. This causes all sorts of secondary signs and symptoms, depending on the damaged nerves and the organs controlled by those nerves.
Even when the nerves begin to regenerate, bothersome symptoms can appear. As nerves are damaged, they repair themselves by sprouting. These immature nerve shoots, called rootlets, 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 get good relief, it is essential to help these immature rootlets grow and mature to reduce their mechanical sensitivity.
Neuropathy is one of the most common affiliations of the nervous system. Despite the fact that the disease affects so many people, the typical approach to treatment is generally inadequate.
I would like to share with you the stories of two of my patients. They are real patients, and they have agreed to allow me to discuss their cases, but I will change their names anyway, to protect their privacy.
They represent the typical type of neuropathy cases treated in our office. Norb is a 90 year old lively and full of life. He has had 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 stinging, burning pains in his feet. Over the next few months, her toes turned blazing red. He felt a burning sensation at night which he rated 10 out of 10 on a pain scale. Then several of his toes developed small sores. Needless to say, Norb went to every type of doctor imaginable. His condition deteriorated until one day he received a dire prognosis from his diabetes specialist. Norb’s toes would have to be amputated. Norb, as you can imagine, was devastated.
Norb was also lucky because he told his story to a dental hygienist who happened to be a patient in our practice. She told him how we used a simple little red laser light to help with his foot problems. Norb made an appointment for an evaluation in a last-ditch effort to save his toes.
When I met Norb he could barely stand because of the pain in his feet. He had several sores known as diabetic ulcers on his toes and a few others on his shin. The pile of medical records he brought with him was so big 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. It’s an admission I’ve heard over and over again from our neuropathy patients.
I told Norb that I couldn’t promise him anything, but that I could offer him several types of treatment that were unlike anything he had tried before. I was going to try to reverse Norb’s neuropathy using a 2000 year old treatment, acupuncture and a 21st century treatment, low level laser therapy. I also introduced him to an herb called Centellia Asiatica which studies have shown can help nerve tissue regenerate.
We had less than a month to change Norb’s feet enough to convince the surgeon not to amputate his toes. Four silver needles were inserted into Norb’s legs at acupuncture points described thousands of years ago. Norb’s toe ulcers were “painted on” with low-intensity laser light. We treated Norb daily and at the end of the first week, something remarkable happened. The angry fiery red tissue in Norb’s feet changed to a wholesome pink color. The ulcers have become covered with crusts. By the end of the second week, Norb’s feet looked as healthy as a 40-year-old man. His pain rating of 10 out of 10 dropped to zero. His surgeon, while puzzled, thankfully reversed his amputation.
It’s been over a year now and Norb has had his neuropathy on several occasions. Each time, four hair-thin silver needles and a single red light tamed the evil beast.
Neuropathy does not choose old and infirm people. It does not spare young and healthy people. I would like to tell you about Joan (again the name has changed). Joan was a very successful executive secretary in her late 40s. One day his legs started hurting. It was an annoyance at first. But she quickly progressed to foot and leg pain so horrific that she was incapacitated. The burning and weakness in her legs became so severe that she was bedridden. Like all of our neuropathy patients, she had seen 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 part of a large group of patients diagnosed with idiopathic neuropathy. Or neuropathy of unknown cause or origin. Despite standard medical care, she collapsed. She became totally disabled, lost her job and received a grim prognosis. There was no identifiable reason for her neuropathy, she was not responding to standard medical treatment, and she would likely continue to deteriorate. She was told to consider the possibility of being in a wheelchair before she reached her 50th birthday. The specialist she was seeing told her that there was really nothing he or anyone could do for her and there was no need for her to postpone an appointment with him.
When I first saw Joan, she wasn’t in a wheelchair, but she should have been. She absolutely couldn’t stand without clinging to someone or something. It took her forever to walk from our waiting room to the treatment room. She was taking all sorts of powerful drugs that made it difficult for her to concentrate or even hold a conversation. As usual, she had a stack of medical records testifying to the futility of previous medical treatments. Neuropathy had taken her from an independent woman with a well-paying job to a total disability.
She couldn’t work, she couldn’t interact with her family, she could barely walk, and every specialist she saw gave her grim prognosis after grim prognosis.
I told him about a 2000 year old Chinese remedy that recent studies have shown can improve nerve regeneration. She had heard of the good results our other neuropathy patients had had with low intensity laser therapy and acupuncture. She realized that standard medical care had nothing left to offer her and she was willing to try these and other forms of alternative medicine. She recognized that she had nothing more to lose.
Joan’s neuropathy was severe; we gave it a series of natural substances, including specific amino acids, Elk Antler Velvet and other nerve growth promoting factors. We used acupuncture, laser, ultrasound and electrical stimulation to stimulate the nerves in her legs. She was very dedicated and we treated her for over four months.
You should see her today. She is not cured, but she is walking quite normally. She goes weeks without severe pain and has been able to stop or reduce many of her painkillers. She plays with her grandchildren and is, as she describes, “closer to normal than anyone could have imagined.”
These cases represent what is possible with the integration of alternative medicine into standard medical care. Do all patients with neuropathy react this way? Unfortunately, the answer is no. But alternative medicine and integrative neurology hold tremendous promise for patients who have exhausted all hope offered by standard medical care.
Additionally, modern scientific studies of many alternative interventions document their effectiveness. Offering help and hope to patients with peripheral neuropathy, like Norb and Joan.
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