As of the beginning of my writing this post ( Sunday 01-04-2014 ), I am personally suffering from Peripheral Neuropathy and RLS in a debilitating way and have been for several months. In fact, I was unable to go to sleep at all just last night, not even for a minute. I went to bed about 10:00 pm and laid there with my feet and legs hurting and having to move them every second or two to relieve what discomfort I could. I finally got out of bed about 11:30 pm and sat in the living room recliner and just watched a movie for a couple of hours which did offer relief. About 2:00 am, I thought I was sleepy enough I’d surely go to sleep this time and my legs didn’t seem to be bothering me that bad at the moment. It wasn’t a minute after laying back down that the RLS started again so about 2:30 am, I got up again and returned to the recliner. This time I decided to spend my time searching for information on RLS and ended up watching numerous YouTube videos, some from individuals with limited credibility but more so from accredited doctors and medical convention talks.
What I heard, not just from individuals posting their own videos but from doctors and university studies really bothered me considering the prescription medications I’m currently on. What seems to bother me the most is that I heard doctors sharing that some of the very medications I’m taking tend to cause and aggravate RLS. This of course makes me want to drop those medications but in doing so, I’m not sure what the ramifications will be. I want to trust my doctor but I feel the concoction of medications I’m taking ( currently 7 different prescriptions a day ) are not all playing well together and the side effects of some of them are probably doing me more harm than good both physically and mentally.
Here are some of the things I’ve read and/or heard that will hopefully educate me enough to take my health in my own hands more so that just trusting and allowing the doctors to fully dictate how to manage my condition and hopefully cure myself from this very life disrupting and sleep depriving problem.
Study Notes ( not even going to try and format then nicely, they’re just dropped below like sticky pads )
Nerve pain from Peripheral Neuropathy is caused by ongoing nerve damage, mainly resulting from the toxic effects of high blood sugars and poor blood circulation. Over time, as more and more nerve fibers degrade, nerves lose their ability to transmit sensation creating numbness in the feet and legs. This nerve fiber damage also makes these nerves more likely to misfire, sending pain signals in response to ordinary touching or for no apparent reason. Most people describe this nerve pain as a burning sensation, electrical shocks, or like pins and needles and it is usually in the feet and legs, but can also be in the hands. I happen to have one finger ( right ring ) that is most subject to these sudden pains and no amount of rubbing seems to relieve the pain until it chooses to subside.
While diabetes is a frequent cause, peripheral neuropathy can also be due to toxic traumas resulting from chemotherapy or physical injury, as with carpal tunnel syndrome. It can be caused by putting pressure on nerves, such as the prolonged use of crutches, or even by sitting in the same position for too long ( Guilty! ).
So what can be done to help reduce the pain, frequency of occurrence, and hopefully even reverse these debilitating conditions?
1. When it comes to reducing pain from diabetic neuropathy, controlling your blood sugar is definitely at the top of your priorities! The toxic effects of high blood sugar is the primary cause of the nerve damage and pain in the first place and continued high sugar only exacerbates the discomfort and continues the degrading of the nerve fibers. But keeping sugars as close to normal as possible can stop ongoing damage and some diabetic nerve damage might even be reversible.
2. Walk! Regular exercise improves blood flow to leg and foot nerves and regular exercise that involves the legs and feet, like walking, help force much needed blood to the legs and feet and help nourish the damaged nerves back to health. A habit of regular walking can greatly assist preventing neuropathy, also slowing the progression of neuropathy in those who had already developed the condition. Exercise also helps reduce blood sugars throughout the body and increases tolerance levels for nerve pain in general.
3. Warm baths just before bedtime can boost blood flow to the skin of the legs and feet as well as providing you a relaxing and stress reducing environment just before retiring.
4. The B vitamins (B-1, B-12, B-6, and folic acid) are essential for nerve health and can reduce nerve pain. An article I read on the WebMD website advises 25 milligrams of thiamine (B-1), 500 micro-grams of B-12, 25 milligrams of B-6, and at least 1 milligram of folic acid. An interesting note found in this article was a caution against higher doses of B-6 ( more than 50 milligrams a day ), taking the supplement in high doses and long term can lead to toxicity, cause pain and numbness in the hands and legs, and in severe cases even difficulty walking. Dr. Andrew Weil however recommends taking a B-100 complex supplement once a day. He also states that B-6 exceeding 200 MG daily can actually cause symptoms of neuropathy.
5. Acetaminophen (Tylenol), Aspirin, Ibuprofen (Motrin), and Naproxen (Aleve) are good for headaches and inflammation but not so much for nerve pain, most experts say. Still, they can play a part in your treatment plan if taken carefully and not overused. These types of pain relievers can be really hard on your kidneys when overused.
6. Who knew that chili peppers could reduce nerve pain? Made from hot cayenne peppers, capsaicin cream rubbed on skin affected by nerve pain can bring relief. In one important study, more than two-thirds of people using capsaicin reported improvement in nerve pain. Capsaicin does help according to a lot of users, but you have to be religious about using it and understand that for a few weeks, it will likely feel worse before it gets better.
7. A drink of alcohol a day can provide both physical and mental health benefits to some people, but it may be too much for those with neuropathy and/or RLS. High levels of alcohol are toxic to nerves, especially nerves that are already injured, thus aggravating Peripheral Neuropathy and RLS symptoms.
8. Evening primrose oil is rich in omega-6 fatty acids, an important structural component of cell walls. Some studies suggest supplementing the diet with evening primrose oil may boost the repair or regrowth of damaged nerves cells. The risks of evening primrose oil are small, but they do include possible increased bleeding in people who take daily aspirin or prescription blood thinners. It may be necessary to take up to 12 capsules of primrose oil a day to see noticeable effects, which I find inconvenient.
9. Some studies have shown that applying essential oils such as geranium oil can reduce the pain of postherpetic neuralgia while lavender oil has been shown to help relax you, helping to take the mind off the nerve pain.
10. Alpha-Lipoic Acid has been shown in some studies to help Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy. This potent antioxidant, also called thioctic acid, clears so-called free radicals from the body, potentially reducing nerve damage. In Germany it is used to treat nerve pain and damage from diabetes. Alpha-lipoic acid given orally or intravenously (600-1,200 milligrams per day) seems to be effective at reducing nerve pain in people with diabetes. For some people, it may help reduce the symptoms of burning, numbness, and prickling in the feet.
11. Conventional Prescription Medications are sometimes necessary as a “triage” in cases where immediate pain and discomfort relief is needed and natural alternatives just aren’t cutting it. Some of these conventional treatments may include tricyclic antidepressants such as Amitriptyline (Elavil, Endep) and Imipramine (Tofranil). These type prescription medications act on the central nervous system and may reduce pain independent of their action as antidepressants (however do not expect immediate results; it usually takes a few weeks for them to build up in your system and provide noticable relief). Anti-seizure medications such as Phenytoin, Carbamazepine, Ropinirole, and Gabapentin are also used effectively for relief of peripheral neuropathy and RLS symptoms.