Our nervous system sends information via electrical and chemical pathways to the brain and spinal cord and then distributes these signals to the rest of the body. When the nerves are damaged and this signalling is working we call this neuropathy. This can occur when no message is sent, like a broken wire, signally when there shouldn’t be signals like ringing in your ear or when a completely wrong signal is sent. These issues typically affect the extremities. The most common symptoms of neuropathy include feelings of numbness, tingling, dullness, burning and weakness. Should you notice any of these symptoms it is important that you discuss them with your GP and your podiatrist.
Seeing your podiatrist Podiatrists are often the first step when these symptoms occur in the feet and legs. They can carry out neurological assessments to identify your risk of foot complications and assess changes to your sensation, muscle weakness and gait abnormalities, which can be associated with neuropathy.
Causes Neuropathy can be caused by many things including chronic alcoholism, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, drug induced; including chemotherapy, hereditary disorders, infection or inflammatory disease, poor diet and vitamin B12 deficiency, kidney failure, back issues or surgery and trauma and in some cases the cause is unknown. There are three main types of nerves that can affect the feet and hands and cause neuropathy: motor, sensory and autonomic.
Motor nerves Motor nerves send information from the brain and spine to the muscles to enable movement and activities such as walking, running, swimming and writing. When there is damage to the motor nerves this may lead to muscle weakness, cramps, spasms, difficulty walking or moving body parts.
Autonomic nerves Autonomic nerves control functions that we don’t think about including our heart rate, sweat glands, blood pressure, and digestion. Damage to these nerves is known as autonomic neuropathy and people who suffer with this may have difficulty swallowing, decreased sweating and incontinence issues. Specifically, this can cause increased dryness to the hands and feet and lead to cracked skin.
Sensory nerves Sensory nerves send information from the muscles and skin to the brain and spinal cord this enables us to identify feelings such as hot, cold, sharp and blunt. This can be very dangerous as it means we can sustain injury without realising and may lead to serious foot complications such as ulcerations and amputation if not properly managed. If you experience any of these symptoms please discuss them with your GP and follow up with your podiatrist.