Neuropathy

Overview

What Is Neuropathy?

The term neuropathy refers to conditions where nerves aren’t sending messages correctly between the brain and body. It also includes conditions where the two parts of the body’s nervous system can’t correctly communicate with each other.

Nerves are like tiny electrical cords that send sensations and muscle control commands from the brain and spinal column to the most delicate points of your fingers and toes. And just like electrical cords, nerves can be damaged by being cut or compressed (as in sciatica or nerve entrapment). This can interrupt communication between the brain, nervous system and the rest of the body, causing neuropathy.

When neuropathy interrupts nerve communication, it can be painful. Certain types of neuropathy – like peripheral neuropathy (neuropathy in the hands and feet) – can make it hard to use your limbs the way you usually do.

At Aurora, we offer advanced treatment for neuropathic conditions – from noninvasive techniques like physical therapy to the most advanced arthroscopic surgery.

The Aurora Difference

Expert Relief for Neuropathy

When you’re dealing with neuropathic pain, you need answers – and relief. Our orthopedic medical experts take the time to listen, investigate the cause of the pain and recommend the best treatment options for you – so you can feel better faster and get back to the things you love.

People also choose us for our:

  • Caring, coordinated treatment: Aurora Health Care is an integrated health system. Here, you’ll be treated by a connected team that communicates closely with each other. Your primary care doctor, physical therapist and surgeon will all have access to the same electronic medical record – so you’ll get the most seamless care experience possible.
  • Wide range of advanced treatments: We provide tried-and-true treatments as well as some of the latest advances in neuropathy care. For example, our physical therapists have access to tools like the AlterG® antigravity treadmill, and our surgeons were among the first in Wisconsin to pioneer minimally invasive endoscopic carpal tunnel surgery. Learn more about orthopedic medicine and surgery.
  • Convenient locations: With geographic coverage throughout eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois, Aurora physical therapists and doctors are conveniently located near you. Find a location.

Symptoms & Causes

Signs of Neuropathy

Neuropathy often affects the nerves in your hands and feet. It can spread to your arms and legs, too. The most common symptoms of neuropathy are:

  • Weakness
  • Numbness
  • Pain, stabbing or burning
  • Tingling (pins and needles)

More severe neuropathy may cause problems with coordination or stumbling. When neuropathy affects the nerves that control the muscles (motor neuropathy), it can weaken or paralyze them. Learn more about neuromuscular disorders.

Causes of Neuropathy

Conditions that frequently cause neuropathy include:

  • Diabetes: Over time, diabetes can affect the blood vessels that carry blood to the extremities (hands and feet). People often refer to this condition as peripheral neuropathy. Read more about diabetes and endocrinology.
  • Sciatica: Compression of the sciatic nerve – usually at the base of the spine – can cause leg pain and neuropathy. Learn more about the causes of sciatica, like a herniated disc.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: Repetitive hand and wrist motion can compress the nerves in the wrist, causing the telltale tingling and numbness of neuropathy. Read more about carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Trauma: A car accident, fall or sports injury can damage or cut the nerves, leading to nerve pain. Read more about orthopedic trauma.
  • Ulnar nerve entrapment: An elbow injury may compress the ulnar nerve (the nerve that runs on the outside of the elbow and along the forearm), causing weakness or tingling in the fingers. Find out more about our treatments for elbow, wrist and hand pain.
  • Tumors: Neuropathy can result from tumors that press on nerves, as well as certain cancer treatments that affect nerve function. Learn more about bone and soft tissue cancer.

Diagnosis

Exams & Imaging to Diagnose Neuropathy

Neuropathy’s telltale signs of tingling and numbness are a good reason to make an appointment with us.

At your appointment, your doctor will discuss any other symptoms you may be having, as well as potential causes of your neuropathy. You may also have in-office tests like X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These tests can often show how far nerve damage has progressed.

Learn more about orthopedic diagnosis.

Electrodiagnostic Testing for Neuropathy

To understand more about your nerve pathways, your orthopedic doctor might consult a neurologist for additional tests. Electrodiagnostic tests use your body’s natural electrical activity to check muscle and nerve function.

These tests include:

  • Electromyography (EMG): An EMG uses thin needles inserted under the skin to show a doctor where muscles are firing normally and where the connection is broken or weak. Many people say that getting an EMG feels like getting a shot – the pain is minimal and doesn’t last long.
  • Nerve conduction study (NCS): The NCS uses electrical stimulation, which feels like a mild static electricity shock, to gauge how fast nerves send messages between your muscles and brain. This information can tell us how healthy your nerves are. Learn more about nerve care.

Treatment

Treating Neuropathy

The first line of neuropathy treatment is simple care like:

  • Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications
  • Rest
  • Compression
  • Elevating the affected limb

If you need more support, we offer therapies and treatments to relieve neuropathy, including:

  • Braces, splints or walking aids: A brace or splint can take pressure off an area and provide extra support. Walking aids, like canes or crutches, can improve steadiness and relieve exhausted muscles.
  • Integrated therapies: Treatments like acupuncture, massage and chiropractic care can provide pain relief, and sometimes help to loosen the muscles that are compressing the nerves. Learn more about integrative medicine.
  • Physical therapy: After discussing your activities and evaluating the cause of the nerve pain, our physical therapists will build a treatment plan to help meet your goals. We’ll work to help you increase strength, gain flexibility, improve balance and relieve nerve compression. Get information about physical therapy.
  • Custom orthotics: Orthotics are shoe inserts that stabilize the foot and knee in order to relieve pain, improve balance and help you stay active. We also offer special diabetic footwear to minimize the risk of future foot injury. Learn more about custom foot orthotics.
  • Surgery: Certain types of neuropathy require surgery to relieve nerve compression. If surgery is necessary, we offer minimally invasive procedures for carpal tunnel release, thumb tendonitis and other conditions. Learn more about minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery.

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