Peripheral neuropathy is becoming a more common side effect of chemotherapy. In our practice at the cancer center in Washington County VT, we are seeing this specific symptom more frequently than others. This is when there is numbness and tingling at the hands and/or feet. By increasing circulation to these areas, acupuncture can help heal the nerves more quickly and recover normal sensation to our cancer patients in northern Vermont.
What is neuropathy?
Peripheral neuropathy is a result of damage to the peripheral nerves, typically causing pain, numbness, and weakness to the hands and feet. The peripheral nerves carry information from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. The nerves at the extremities can be injured from the use of chemotherapy in cancer care. This is becoming a more common side effect from certain medications. People describe the sensation as numbness, tingling, burning pain, or heaviness. It can interfere with balance and effective fine motor use of the fingers.
Western Treatment for Peripheral Neuropathy
This is a side effect of chemotherapy that can be challenging to treat with western medication. It can last from just a few months, to over a year. For some, there is remaining neuropathy for many years after the original damage. Pain relievers are prescribed, along with anti-seizure medication such as Neurontin and Lyrica.
Sometimes antidepressants can be effective at mitigating the discomfort of neuropathy. Doctors may prescribe Capsaicin, the substance in hot peppers, in a cream form to be applied throughout the affected areas. This can potentially be burning and irritating to the skin. Physical therapy may be advised to strengthen weakness caused by the neuropathy.
Acupuncture Can Speed Recovery of Neuropathy
At integrative Acupuncture in Montpelier, peripheral neuropathy is one of the most common side effects we treat with acupuncture during and after cancer care. It is most ideal to use acupuncture along with chemotherapy to minimize the potential for neuropathy and other side effects. One of acupuncture’s impacts on the body is improving blood circulation. By keeping the blood circulating to the peripheral nerves in the hands and feet, neuropathy can be minimized during treatment.
If the damage has been done months or even years ago, the increased circulation to these nerves can help them heal and recover to regain normal perception. The pain will gradually be reduced, the numbness and tingling will recede, and strength will be regained over time. This typically requires a regular weekly treatment plan for several months to gain the greatest benefit.