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Needle Away Neuropathy?

Can acupuncture be used to relieve the pain of peripheral neuropathy in feet not associated with diabetes?

Answer (Published 4/12/2004)

The short answer to your question is yes, acupuncture can help relieve the pain of peripheral neuropathy. This common disorder stems from damage to the peripheral nerves, especially those that branch out through the arms, legs, fingers and toes. Symptoms include weakness, numbness, tingling, and burning or painful sensations.

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Diabetes is a frequent cause, but peripheral neuropathy can also be due to toxic trauma (such as chemotherapy) or mechanical injury, as with carpal tunnel syndrome. It can be caused by prolonged use of crutches, or even sitting in the same position for too long. Disorders such as atherosclerosis, autoimmunity, advanced kidney disease and hypothyroidism may also be to blame, as many certain drugs or environmental toxins.

You did not mention what you believe to be the cause of your neuropathy, but B-vitamins are necessary for normal nerve function, and supplementing is a good preventive measure. Take one B-100 B-complex daily. You also should take alpha lipoic acid, which protects microcirculation to nerves, making it especially effective for diabetic neuropathy but helpful for other types as well. Start with 100 mg twice a day (doses as high as 600 mg daily are used).

A practitioner of Chinese medicine can provide you with herbs that may speed recovery, as well as acupuncture treatments. You might also try reflexology for neuropathy of the legs, feet and toes. If a toxic exposure is the cause, time is your greatest ally – injured nerves will slowly recover, as long as the exposure ends.

Conventional treatments include tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline HC1 (Elavil, Endep) and imipramine HC1 (Tofranil). These drugs act on the central nervous system and may reduce pain independent of their action as antidepressants (don’t expect immediate results; it usually takes a few weeks for them to kick in and bring relief). Common side effects include drowsiness, dry mouth, urinary retention and dizziness. If neuropathic pain is due to compression of a nerve by a tumor or a ruptured disc, surgery may be recommended.

You can find a qualified acupuncturist in your area through the American Association of Oriental Medicine at http://www.aaom.org/.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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