Do you have feet that intermittently tingle, prickle, go numb, or experience other strange symptoms like oversensitivity or sudden, unexplained pain? It doesn’t necessarily have to happen all the time; maybe just once every few weeks, or even every couple of months.
If so, it’s very possible that you’re in the first stage of a condition called peripheral neuropathy.
Peripheral neuropathy is an extremely common condition, especially among people with diabetes. (By some estimates, up to half of all people with diabetes have it in some form.) But you certainly don’t have to have diabetes to get it—and even when the two are related, the neuropathy symptoms often start before any diagnosis has been made.
Will My Neuropathy Get Worse?
To a large degree, that depends on how you respond to your neuropathy.
Unfortunately, peripheral neuropathy is a progressive condition that, if left untreated, slowly moves through a number of increasingly severe stages.
To be more clear: it will get worse unless you get the treatment you need as soon as you can.
Intermittent tingling today could be first step toward a condition that ultimately takes away your ability to drive, walk more than short distances, or enjoy your favorite hobbies—and significantly increases your risk of severe wounds, infections, and injuries.
Nerves, unfortunately, tend to not be as capable of healing or regenerating themselves as other kinds of tissue in your body. That means nerve damage is sometimes permanent, and nerve function cannot always be fully restored once lost.
New advanced treatments (which we’ll talk about later in this blog) have greatly improved the possible outcomes for people at every stage of neuropathy, but if you want the best possible chance to maintain or restore healthy nerve function, you must seek help as early as possible.
The Stages of Neuropathy
Let’s quickly look ahead at what the typical course of the disease looks like for those who do not get the treatment they need in a timely fashion. Keep in mind that the precise symptoms you experience can vary slightly depending on which and what types of nerves are damaged, and the “boundaries” between stages are not always a clear line.
- Stage 1. In the earliest stage, you might not yet be fully aware that a major problem is brewing. This stage tends to be marked by pain, tingling, or other strange, unexplained sensations that occur intermittently. It could be weeks or months between episodes, and the episodes themselves might be quite mild. But it likely won’t stay that way.
- Stage 2. Stage 2 isn’t necessarily a clearly defined stage; it’s more like the transition between stages 1 and 3. Your symptoms are still intermittent, but they’re more frequent and probably more intense than they were before. In other words, you might consider “stage 2” as the point where it become impossible to deny that some kind of problem is going on.
- Stage 3. The third stage is the point when the pain reaches its absolute peak. Your symptoms are probably constant now, or at the very least episodes occur every day or every other day. The pain is probably so intense that you need to take medications every day to deal with it—and that may not be enough.
- Stage 4. This is another “transition” stage, between 3 and 5. After dealing with stage 3 pain for a time, you may start to notice that pain is diminishing. Unfortunately, that is not a good sign. It means that the nerves are so badly damaged that they are no longer functioning at all. While you might be glad in the short term that you’re dealing with less pain, your balance is also probably starting to go, and your risk of severe injuries sharply increases.
- Stage 5. This is the “end stage” of neuropathy, where you no longer feel anything at all in your feet. They’ve become totally numb due to the complete disintegration of the sensory nerves. If that doesn’t sound “that bad” to you, consider that, with stage 5 neuropathy, you can’t drive a normal car. You can’t participate in most active sports or hobbies. Even simple walking may become difficult or dangerous due to unsteadiness. You may be forced to use a wheelchair. And because you can no longer feel pain, your risk of developing a severe injury or infection without even noticing it at first increases exponentially. For many people, this ultimately leads to amputation.
How Do I Stop My Neuropathy from Worsening? Can I Get My Healthy Nerves Back?
As we said above, the sooner you see us for evaluation and treatment, the more likely we are able to help you restore as much nerve function as possible.
If your pain is still intermittent (stages 1 and 2), the odds are better that advanced treatments will be able to completely reverse your symptoms. But even if your neuropathy has reached a more advanced stage, treatment may still be able to help you make partial but significant improvements—perhaps restoring your ability to drive or exercise, get you out of the wheelchair, or reduce the amount of medications you need to take.
But again, please do not wait for symptoms to become unbearable to see us!
Advanced Neuropathy Treatments From Canyon Foot + Ankle
Our practice is on the leading edge of neuropathy care in our region, with several sophisticated treatment tools that not only alleviate pain, but in many cases can restore some or all nerve function to the feet and ankles. This is a huge, revolutionary improvement over what was previously available.
Available treatments include Neurogenx, an electrical signal treatment that transmits waves that damaged nerves can conduct and use to help trigger regeneration, and MLS laser therapy, which uses light energy to help cells heal themselves faster. Both treatments are non-narcotic and non-invasive, and we’re the only practice in the area using the Neurogenx system.
If you’re interested in learning more about either treatment, click the links below:
This all being said, advanced treatments are only part of the story. It’s also important that we identify, as best we are able, the root causes of your neuropathy so you can make the appropriate lifestyle adjustments (which will help stop the symptoms from returning or worsening over the long term). Typically, this includes things that almost any doctor would tell you to do: eat right, exercise regularly, quit smoking, etc. We may also recommend dietary supplements with nerve-enriching nutrients.
To recap, if you get only three things out of this blog post, they should be:
- Without treatment, your neuropathy will get worse.
- With treatment (including some lifestyle changes), neuropathy progress can usually be halted or even reversed.
- The earlier you seek help, the better the outcome you can expect.
So please, if you are feeling tingling or intermittent pain in your feet and legs—even if it’s minor and only occasional—contact us today! We will make sure you get a thorough evaluation and any treatment recommendations you need to keep your feet and ankles as healthy and pain-free as possible, now and into the future.