By being aware and understanding the impact of neuropathy on sensory and motor functions, individuals can implement modifications to their daily activities and environments to promote safety, increased quality of life, and independence.
What is Neuropathy?
Neuropathy occurs when damaged nerves lead to symptoms of pain, weakness, numbness, tingling, burning sensation (“pins and needles”), and/or loss of proprioception in areas of your body. Each individual may experience different symptoms. Neuropathy can occur due to a variety of reasons, such as disease, infection, injury, medications, substance abuse, or other underlying causes. Over time, neuropathy can cause weakness and difficulty with balance and overall movement.
Some of the different types of neuropathy are:
- Autonomic neuropathy: occurs when the nerves that control your involuntary physiologic processes (such as respiration, bowel/bladder function, blood pressure, digestion, etc.) are damaged
- Diabetic neuropathy: occurs as a result of damage to nerves from type 1 or type 2 diabetes (typically impacts the hands or feet)
- Peripheral Neuropathy: is characterized by damage to the nerves that are located outside of the brain and spinal cord (typically impacts the arms, legs, feet, and/or hands)
- Focal or Mononeuropathy: is characterized by damage to one nerve or a group of nerves in one area of the body
- Polyneuropathy: is characterized by damage to several nerves
How is Neuropathy diagnosed?
Your doctor can diagnose neuropathy using a variety of tests. The choice of test is influenced by the specific symptoms you exhibit and your medical history. A tailored approach is typically used to ensure a precise and effective diagnostic process. Your doctor may choose to do a physical examination, blood test, imaging study (CT or MRI), nerve conduction study, electromyography (EMG), nerve biopsy, skin biopsy, autonomic testing, or a combination of any of these tests to determine if you have neuropathy. The first step in addressing neuropathy and obtaining treatment is being diagnosed by your doctor.
The role of therapy for Neuropathy
Once you are diagnosed with neuropathy, your doctor may refer you to physical therapy or occupational therapy services.
Occupational therapy plays a crucial role in managing neuropathy, as occupational therapy focuses on enhancing an individual’s ability to safely perform daily activities with as much independence as possible. Typically, an occupational therapist will conduct an evaluation, including comprehensive assessments, to understand the impact of neuropathy on an individual’s daily functioning. Based on this evaluation, an occupational therapist can create a customized treatment plan. Some occupational therapy interventions to address neuropathy may include (but are not limited to):
- Education on diagnosis and safety strategies
- General adaptive strategies for daily living
- Recommendations for appropriate assistive devices, adaptive equipment, and durable medical equipment
- Sensory integration techniques
- Pain management techniques
- Balance, coordination, and proprioceptive exercises
- Home or workplace modifications
It is extremely important to have ongoing communication between the patient, therapist, and doctor so that interventions can be adjusted based on progress and changing needs.
Encouraging individuals with symptoms of neuropathy to seek medical assistance, advocate for a diagnosis, and obtain therapy support are paramount to facilitate improved quality of life and increase an individual’s safety, efficiency, and independence with daily tasks. At Sage, we believe in a collaborative approach to provide optimal patient care.
*Information adapted from the Mayo Clinic, John Hopkins, & AOTA