It happens every 49 seconds in America. Someone — maybe a friend or a family member — begins outpatient chemotherapy.
There are a number of risks associated with chemotherapy. One risk that affects about 20 million people is what’s called peripheral neuropathy. It’s typically noticed toward the end of chemotherapy.
This condition results from damage caused by chemotherapy to the peripheral nervous system. That’s your network of nerves that carry information between your brain and spinal cord and every other part of the body. The term neuropathy means nerve disease or damage.
With peripheral neuropathy, numbness and tingling in the fingertips or toes are early symptoms. The discomfort is often worse in the cold. Peripheral neuropathy can also affect balance and dexterity.
The symptoms can become permanent if left untreated. In many cases the pain caused by neuropathy greatly reduces each patient’s quality of life.
With prompt diagnosis, integrative medicine therapies such as acupuncture, mind-body medicine and a specific nutrition plan are very effective in managing the pain associated with peripheral neuropathy.
Your best chance for treatment success occurs when you start treatment early. However, these therapies can be helpful even if you’ve been suffering for a longer period of time.
In traditional Chinese medicine, peripheral neuropathy is explained as an energy blockage that occurs due to an underlying deficiency or obstruction. This means that the symptoms occur either because your body is exhausted from treatment, or because there is a physical block in the flow of blood and energy through your body.
When an acupuncturist meets with you, they’ll request your medical history and perform a comprehensive exam. The information they gather will help them determine the proper treatment. Based on the information you provide, they’ll provide you resources to help bring your body back into harmony and to restore the proper circulation of energy and blood flow to your extremities.
The acupuncture session itself involves placing very thin tread-like needles into specific points in the body. These points send messages to your brain. The points selected help the nerves heal and reduce any secondary conditions that could be contributing to the pain, such as inflammation.
In most cases, a series of acupuncture treatments are needed to achieve results. The best results are observed when treatments are combined with nutritional and lifestyle changes. Research from the Sloan Kettering Institute demonstrates acupuncture is an effective evidence-based treatment to reduce the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.
Since the pain from peripheral neuropathy is often caused by a decrease in circulation of blood and energy, the most import thing that you can do to help reduce the pain is to get your body moving. Being sedentary will only cause this condition to get worse over time.
Gentle exercises that do not require much exertion are the best activities for this condition.
Tai Qi / Chi Gong and yin yoga are excellent exercises to get the body moving in a gentle manner. Both can be done with little exertion and will boost your energy. They have the added bonus of improving your balance and reducing stress.
Below is a list of foods that are high in iron, vitamin B12 and folic acid. These nutrients encourage the production of new red blood cells. They may help eliminate cold sensations in the extremities along with numbness and tingling caused by peripheral nerve damage.
There are a few oils that have the potential to reduce the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy when applied to the skin. With the exception of only a few oils, pure undiluted essential oils should not be applied directly to the skin or taken internally. It’s best to consult with a qualified provider certified in aromatherapy before starting a regimen with oils. Helpful oils include:
Frankincense -—- an oil with properties that are well known for their analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect.
Black Pepper — a rubefacient, meaning it will increase circulation and bring heat to the skin. It can help alleviate symptoms with a cold component.
Lavender — has a calming and sedative effect. It can help reduce symptoms when there is a component of hyperactivity, especially when anxiety is present, which is often the case in chronic pain conditions.
Integrative medicine approaches such as those we’ve described can provide relief for patients coping with peripheral neuropathy. Integrative medicine can help people with a range of maladies reach their health and wellness goals.
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