Managing symptoms of peripheral neuropathy
A range of health professionals can help you manage peripheral neuropathy.
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Doctors use various medicines to help relieve the symptoms. These may include:
- pain medicines – you can try over-the-counter painkillers (e.g. paracetamol, ibuprofen) but these often don’t help much; your doctor may prescribe stronger pain medicines (e.g. tramadol), but the side effects may mean that these are not a good long-term solution
- duloxetine – sometimes this antidepressant is recommended for managing peripheral neuropathy; while some studies have shown that it helps relieve numbness, tingling and pain, other studies have found no benefit
- other drugs – because treatment options are limited, some other types of antidepressants, the anticonvulsant gabapentin, and the topical creams capsaicin or lignocaine are sometimes recommended by doctors to relieve symptoms such as pain, but the evidence is not clear
- laxatives or stool softeners – these can help manage constipation.
Other ways to manage symptoms
Although there are few medicines that can help with peripheral neuropathy, there are other ways to relieve symptoms and reduce the risks.
Self-careThere are a number of simple things you can do to help manage peripheral neuropathy. See Tips for looking after yourself.
ExerciseExercise is recommended to strengthen muscles, improve circulation, reduce pain and cramps, and improve balance. A physiotherapist or exercise physiologist can help develop an exercise program for you that can improve your strength, balance and mobility, and possibly reduce your peripheral neuropathy symptoms as well.
EquipmentTo help manage daily tasks and reduce the risk of falls, an occupational therapist can recommend appropriate aids and equipment (e.g. special shoes) and strategies (e.g. using visual cues when walking over uneven ground). They may also try a desensitisation program, gradually introducing different textures to encourage normal use of your hands.
Foot carePeripheral neuropathy can make it difficult to look after your feet. A podiatrist is a trained health professional who can trim your toenails; treat any skin problems, such as blisters and corns; and check your feet for injuries you may not have noticed.
Pain relief without medicineNerve pain can sometimes be relieved with massage, while learning relaxation techniques can help people manage pain and discomfort. Acupuncture, TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, a device that sends small electrical currents to parts of the body) and certain dietary supplements are being tested in clinical trials to see whether they help with peripheral neuropathy related to cancer. Some people find magnesium cream and tablets can help ease muscle cramps in the feet and lower legs.
Psychology and counsellingA psychologist can teach relaxation, meditation and other techniques to help with managing pain. A counsellor or psychologist can also help people adjust to any lifestyle changes caused by peripheral neuropathy.
Dr Susanna Park, IN FOCUS research program and Senior Lecturer, Brain and Mind Centre, Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney, NSW; Katrina Dick, Consumer; Rosemerry Hodgkin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Phil Mendoza-Jones, Consumer; Jodie Nixon, Clinical Team Leader, Occupational Therapy, Cancer Services, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Rachel Tunney, Consumer; Jane Turner, Senior Exercise Physiologist, Sydney Cancer Survivorship Centre, Concord Hospital, NSW; Dr Shirley Wong, Consultant Medical Oncologist, Sunshine Hospital, Western Health, VIC.
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