Pain is the brain’s way to signal that the body is in danger. Pain has evolved for a good reason to allow humans to know when something is too hot and prevent us from burning ourselves, it helps us identify when we are injured and aids in the inflammatory response that helps us heal. Pain when it is proportional and timed with preventing dangerous actions is a good response to have. But for many, pain is a constant phenomenon that inhibits daily activities and causes unnecessary suffering. And in these cases, pain is triggered by the brain in the absence of an injury or danger. It may be due to the pain system becoming hypersensitive signalling pain with mild touch or is stimulated constantly. This is the case of a malfunctioning nervous system that was once designed to signal danger but is now misfiring.
Pain is a common concern that we see at our clinic. Ones that can range from back pain, neck pain, headaches, sprains and more. Most of these concerns can be linked back to an injury but there are cases that are diagnosed as neuropathic pain that do not have a said cause, these are the cases that piqued my curiosity and I wanted to delve deeper into the cause and effect. I have had a recent wave of patients experiencing extreme burning, pricking and stabbing pain in the limbs, often located at the ends of the limbs, hands/arms and feet/legs. The common denominator found was that they all had a previous history of cancer and had undergone either Chemotherapy or Radiation therapy. Studies have shown that up to 40% of chemotherapy patients have experienced neuropathic pain. What researchers have found is that “when nociceptors (cells that signal pain) are exposed to chemotherapy drugs they become more easily triggered and begin to degenerate. This likely contributes to the neuropathies that 40% of chemotherapy patient endure.” Neurobiologist Clifford Woolf, Children’s Hospital, Boston.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views Neuropathic pain as a combination of stagnation (the inability for blood, qi and energy to flow through a certain area of the body) and deficiency of qi and blood which contributes to the degeneration of the peripheral nerves. In cases with a history of chemotherapy, these individuals will experience a temporary decline in blood according to TCM as the drugs target all cells, damaging and killing them in the attempts to destroy tumour cells. To help reduce and relieve pain due to peripheral neuropathy (degeneration of the peripheral nervous system that signals pain and sensory information) we have to aim to decrease inflammation and improve circulation with acupuncture while helping to nourish and rebuild blood to aid in the healing and regeneration of nerve cells.
In chronic cases Chinese herbal medicine can help improve blood reserves, energy, sleep and mood as well as aid in nerve regeneration. Acupuncture is used in conjunction to decrease inflammation and promote circulation of qi and blood.
Vitamins that have shown to be helpful include Vitamin K2 (MK7). Studies have shown that the use of 200mcg daily for 8 weeks may help to decrease neuropathic pain.
I have found that acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine have been helpful in helping patients manage this excruciating pain. Acupuncture targets the areas of pain along with the nerve roots on the spine which help to alter the sensation of pain. Patients have reported to have less burning sensation, less stabbing pain and an overall increase in their ability to complete their daily duties. In addition, patients have reported the quality of sleep improves as pain decreases. Everyone is unique, and we tailor treatment to specific needs and causes for that person. Treatment results will vary from person to person, but with continued treatment through acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine we have found that the quality of life has improved through a change and decline in pain.
If you or someone you know is suffering from peripheral neuropathy and would like to see if acupuncture may help them, please contact us to find out more at firstname.lastname@example.org.