Nerve damage can be mild, but it can also be severe enough to affect quality of life. It can occur as the result of an injury, pinched nerve, sciatica, infectious disease, blood clot, or peripheral or diabetic neuropathy. According to the Neuropathy Association, more than 20 million Americans currently suffer from peripheral neuropathy alone (see Reference 1). Symptoms of nerve damage can vary depending on whether motor, sensory or autonomic nerves are affected. Although most nerve damage is temporary and heals with time, length of recovery depends on the type and extent of damage.
Make an appointment to see your doctor for a thorough physical examination to determine the underlying problem. Your doctor may order an MRI scan, ultrasound or other diagnostic tests. The cause of nerve damage can make a difference in the treatment options available.
Take medications to relieve nerve pain. Doctors often prescribe tricyclic antidepressants and anticonvulsant drugs that can help ease pain by changing electrical activity in the nerves. Low doses of antidepressants relieve nerve pain by increasing the levels of certain neurotransmitters, which regulate pain signals to the brain.
Control your blood sugar and maintain healthy cholesterol levels through diet. High blood sugar levels over time can damage nerves. Watching your weight, not smoking, lowering high blood pressure, limiting how much alcohol you drink and exercising helps to slow the nerve damage from diabetic neuropathy.
Schedule visits to a physical therapist. When tingling, numbness, pain and muscle weakness are symptoms of nerve damage, a physical therapist may use therapeutic exercise, manual manipulation, electrical stimulation, heat, massage, and other treatment modalities to stimulate nerves, and strengthen and improve range of motion in the area of the body affected.
Think about alternative treatment approaches. Acupuncture works by blocking the body's perception of pain. The use of acupuncture along with traditional medical treatment and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help speed recovery. Getting enough quality sleep, eating a nutritious diet, and reducing stress all help the body heal more quickly.
Have surgery to repair the nerve or relieve pressure on a stretched nerve. Surgery is sometimes needed to treat neuropathic pain, especially when nerve damage affects the peripheral nervous system. Surgery typically is not offered until other treatment options have failed. In many cases, decompressing nerves can relieve pain and restore sensation.