We are asked this question daily at the 4 offices of Virginia Family Chiropractic. Our doctors specialize in the treatment of different types of neuropathy and we literally have seen thousands of cases, because of our cutting-edge protocols in utilizing MLS laser and spinal decompression to successfully treat the right candidate.
But the problem in answering the question lies in the fact that “neuropathy” is a general term for pathology, irritation, compression, lack of blood flow, damage, deterioration, or any other disease of a nerve. It is commonly misunderstood to be a “specific” type of a nerve problem. But in reality there are dozens of different neuropathies that may occur within the body and each can be vastly different in presentation, causation, and treatment required.
First, let’s start with the basics. Our main nervous system is composed of our brain and spinal cord. This constitutes our “central” nervous system. The brain is the director and, obviously, the most important component of the entire system, as without it, we cannot function and we die. It is protected by our skull or cranium.
Our spinal cord is composed of a tightly wrapped bundle of thousands of individual spinal nerves that communicate and connect directly with the different parts of the brain and the rest of the body and organs. The spinal cord is contained within the bony vertebral column of the spine for protection from outside damage. We have 24 individual and moveable vertebrae, as well as, a block of bone at the bottom called the sacrum. This system allows for our nerves to exit the spinal cord at regular intervals and perform their function of transmitting messages from the brain to the individual body parts; ie our legs, hands, feet, organs, skin, etc. And the system works both ways, with messages being constantly transmitted from the various parts of the body/organs to the brain as well. It’s a two-way street. The spinal column provides for optimal protection from nerve injury, while still allowing a substantial amount of flexibility so that we can bend, twist, stoop, walk, and function in our daily activities.
The second part of our nervous system includes all nerves that exit the spinal cord, and attach to our different body parts and organs. We refer to these as our peripheral nerves. This includes the part of the nerve that immediately connects to the spinal cord inside the vertebral column of the spine, and continues all the way down to the very end of each nerve at its terminal. There are thousands of individual peripheral nerve fibers contained within large nerve roots that exit the spine.
As an example, a peripheral nerve known as the L5 nerve root exits the spinal cord at the low back and travels down through the buttocks, back of the thigh, calf, and foot; splitting into multiple branches along the way and terminating all the way at the end of the big toe. That is one long nerve considering it can be over a meter long! (But it still is not the longest nerve in our body!)
It’s an impressive system to say the least, but also extremely complicated. (See this Dartmouth University article if you want to have a medical school-level discussion of just one part of our complicated peripheral nervous system .)
Now back to the question of “Doctor, can you treat my neuropathy?
The two primary keys, in any successful neuropathy treatment, start with the following:
First, a doctor must determine which specific nerve or nerves are affected; and second, what is causing the damage to that nerve. Unfortunately, a “peripheral neuropathy” can include disease, damage, or compression that occurs anywhere along a particular nerve—from the beginning to the end.
See our blog next week, as I will be discussing the difference between peripheral neuropathy that originates at the proximal part of our nerve (closest to the spine), versus one that primarily involves the distal part (furthest away from the spine). And too often, doctors miss the fact that patients have damage at both!