Have you noticed your muscles acting a little strange since developing neuropathy? Perhaps they affect your ability to walk? Or maybe you find it difficult to use your fingers to pick something up? While we normally associated peripheral neuropathy with symptoms like pain, numbness and tingling – there are other symptoms as well.
The peripheral nervous system is made up of three different kinds of nerves: motor, sensory and autonomic. Each type of nerve controls different functions. Motor nerves send signals from the brain and spinal cord to your muscles – controlling motor functions like walking, dexterity and more. Sensory nerves do the opposite – relaying signals like temperature, pain, etc. from the muscles back to the brain and spinal cord. Finally, the autonomic nerves control involuntary or semi-voluntary functions like heart rate, digestion, blood pressure and more.
Peripheral neuropathy can affect some or all of these nerves. The symptoms you experience will depend entirely upon the type of nerve(s)that have been damaged as a result of your neuropathy. If your sensory nerves have been damaged you will experience symptoms such as pain, numbness, tingling or burning. Damage to the autonomic nerves can lead to problems with dizziness, sweating (either too much or too little), nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, difficulty urinating and more.
If your motor nerves fall victim to nerve damage – various motor functions can be affected. Lets take a look at five possible symptoms you might experience if your neuropathy has damaged your motor nerves:
Loss of balance and difficulty walking
Damage to the motor nerves can make walking difficulty. Your legs may feel heavy and difficult to move or you may feel constantly off balance. Since damage to the motor nerves disrupts the signals from your brain and spinal cord to the muscles – telling them what to do – even something as simple as walking can become a difficult task.
Damage to the sensory nerves can exacerbate this problem. The pain or numbness usually associated with damage to these nerves often affect the feet – making walking even more problematic.
For those suffering from symptoms related to motor nerve damage – extra caution should be used when walking on stairs or other areas where a fall risk is greater. Allowing extra time and avoiding rushing to perform tasks can also help limit your risk of falling.
Loss of Dexterity
Do you find it difficult to pick things up or use your hands to perform certain tasks? If so, that’s a sign your neuropathy has affected your motor nerves. Damage to the motor nerves can affect the ability of your brain to send signals properly to the muscles in your hands. You may notice somewhat delayed reactions in your hands or the muscles in your hands may feel weak – inhibiting your ability to perform even normal tasks like picking something up or moving your fingers.
Some common difficulties associated with loss of dexterity are inability to grip objects, loss of hand strength, difficulty writing or typing, difficulty performing tasks that require small movements, decreased reflexes and more. While you may not be able to restore complete control or strength to the hands – doing regular hand exercises can help you rebuild and maintain muscle strength and improve dexterity control.
Muscle Weakness & Deterioration
As damage to your motor nerves inhibits the ability of your brain and spinal cord to transmit messages to your muscles – you may find yourself limiting the use of your arms, legs, hands and feet. For many, this decrease in physical activity results in muscle deterioration and weakness. As the muscles deteriorate, you lose muscle mass and tone (this is often referred to as muscle atrophy).
Muscle weakness further contributes to the loss of dexterity, balance and difficulty walking previously mentioned. While exercise is often difficult and pain for those with neuropathy – there are low-impact exercises that will help you retain muscle mass and prevent muscle deterioration.
Try these 5 Low Impact Exercises for Neuropathy if you’re experiencing muscle weakness or deterioration!
Cramps & Spasms
The deterioration of muscle mass and the disruption of signals from the brain to the muscles can also lead to painful cramps, muscles spasms and twitches. For many, the cramping strikes at night and can range in severity from mild to extremely painful. In addition to cramping, many experience uncontrollable spasms or muscle twitching – which is visible just below the skin. While not as painful as cramps, they can be quite bothersome.
Loss of Muscle Control
As we’ve already touched on with the sections on loss of balance and dexterity – damage to the motor nerves affects your ability to control your muscles properly. The motor nerves carry messages from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles – telling them what actions to perform. As this line of communication is disrupted – the ability to control muscles is diminished. This is made manifest in loss of reflexes, inability to move hands or feet quickly, difficulty with fine motor tasks (i.e. buttoning a shirt, writing, etc) and more.
While the most common symptoms associated with peripheral neuropathy are pain, numbness, burning or tingling in the hands or feet – they are not the only symptoms. When the motor nerves fall victim to neuropathy the symptoms can go far beyond pain or numbness. They can affect your ability to control muscles and perform otherwise simple physical tasks. Though you may not be able to completely reverse these negative effects, alternative approaches like exercise can help you build and maintain muscle mass – thus helping to minimize the impact of motor nerve damage.
Have your motor nerves been affected by your neuropathy? What symptoms have been the biggest struggle for you and what, if anything, has helped you to cope with them? Share your comments on our Facebook Page!
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