Neuropathy is a term used to describe nerve damage. It can occur as the result of a variety of medical conditions. However the most common cause of neuropathy is diabetes. The complication develops secondary to poor blood circulation that compromises the supply of nutrients and oxygen to the distal parts of the body. Without a sufficient, reliable blood supply, the nervous tissues in the feet and hands are prone to developing peripheral neuropathy which presents itself in the form of tactile sensory disturbances.
Unfortunately, doctors have yet to find a way to reverse the effects of neuropathy. This is because nervous tissue does not repair itself, unlike the other tissues in our bodies. So any damage they sustain is likely to be irreparable. For that reason, anyone who suffers from neuropathy should observe the necessary steps in order to prevent the complication from worsening. For individuals with diabetes, the most effective step would be to maintain blood glucose levels to cease the further development of neuropathy.
Conventional Methods for Managing Neuropathy
While neuropathy can’t be reversed, there are a variety of management methods that medical professionals suggest in order to help alleviate the pain and discomfort that the complication might cause. These methods target only the symptoms, and simply help make day to day life a little more bearable for those who suffer from the sensory issues that neuropathy might cause.
For the most part, neuropathy is managed with medications that aim to mitigate pain. Over the counter pain killers are often the first treatment option, however they’re not usually the most ideal for long-term use. This is because chronic use of pain medication can have significant effects on the liver and kidney. What’s more, advanced cases of neuropathy often come hand in hand with pain that’s too severe for simple OTCs pain management medications to resolve.
Some other methods for treating neuropathy involve the use of topical creams. The most effective is capsaicin which works to alleviate pain by reducing a chemical in the nerves that is responsible for transmitting pain signals. In part, capsaicin also helps by dampening the pain receptors in the areas over which the cream is applied.
More aggressive treatments for neuropathy include antidepressants, SNRIs, spinal cord stimulators, and sodium channel blocker. These work in different ways to reduce pain and are prescribed only after extensive analysis by doctors and specialists. Figuring out which of these treatments will work best often depends on the type and severity of the pain experienced, as neuropathies can be slightly different from person to person.
Aside from these aforementioned treatments, new studies suggest that laser treatment can also be an effective solution against neuropathic pain. But is it really as beneficial as these new findings suggest?
How Does Laser Treatment for Neuropathy Work?
In medicine, lasers have long been used for a variety of purposes. Many different types of surgery involve the use of lasers to cut precise incisions along delicate parts of the body, such as the eyes. Aside from this, studies have found that the therapeutic use of low level lasers on neuropathy can help target the pain and discomfort that the condition might cause.
The most popular form of laser therapy used for neuropathic pain is cold laser treatment. The method works by stimulating blood circulation around the affected areas. This is beneficial because of the lack of blood supply around the distal parts of the body, as a result of increased glucose levels.
In doing this, the nerve fibers that have been damaged can receive sufficient nutrition and oxygen, thus helping repair and optimize their functionality. The end result is decreased neuropathic pain and discomfort.
The process is painless and works to relieve other symptoms associated with diabetic neuropathy as well, including inflammation and wound healing. Depending on the extent of the complication, it may be necessary to receive laser treatment multiple times in a week.
What Do Studies Say?
Laser treatment for neuropathy is fairly new, so we’re only just beginning to understand how it works and whether it truly provides relief from neuropathic pain. However, despite the lack of in-depth understanding regarding the treatment, existing studies point to the same conclusion – that laser treatment might be effective, especially when used appropriately.
The issue that most studies found is that while the treatment itself is a promising solution against neuropathic disturbance, a uniform method of administration has yet to be established. Without a structured treatment method, the extent of the benefits that the modality could provide widely varies from study to study.
According to research published in 2017, low level laser therapy can improve sensory function in individuals with peripheral neuropathy however, the variations in laser treatment regimens and the lack of a specific treatment protocol could have an effect on the efficacy of the treatment.
Another study measured pain management by way of the Michigan Neuropathy Screening Instrument – a standardized test that quantifies the level of pain experienced by an individual. Based on their findings, low level laser therapy was found to significantly reduce pain in individuals with Type 2 Diabetes. This was the same result collected from a study conducted in 2011.
Based on all of this research, it’s easy to see that laser light treatment can be a promising method for neuropathic pain relief. It is hoped that further research will help LLLT become an accredited medical treatment so that more health care professionals will make it accessible to individuals seeking relief from neuropathic pain.
Who Provides Laser Treatment for Neuropathy?
While most of us would expect that neurologists and neurosurgeons would be the best equipped to administer laser treatment for peripheral neuropathies, that’s not actually the case. In fact, it’s rare that you will find a licensed medical doctor prescribing this form of treatment because it’s considered an alternative medicine. That is, laser treatments have yet to be accepted in the medical field as a sound, reliable management for neuropathy.
Currently, laser treatments for neuropathies can be provided by chiropractors or pain management clinics. Keep in mind that because of the limited research on laser treatment, it’s not covered by any sort of insurance. As it can be quite expensive – ranging from $125 to $175 USD per session – it might not be practical for a lot of individuals.
Low Level Laser Treatment at Home
While the use of medical lasers at home isn’t recommended, there are FDA-cleared devices that can be safely and effectively used in the comfort and privacy of your own space. These lasers cost quite a pretty penny, so it would be wise to undergo a few clinic-based treatments first to find out whether or not the therapy actually provides you any relief.
If you’re certain that LLLT is right for you, then there are a variety of low level lasers that you can purchase in order to treat the pain yourself. The biggest consideration you need to make is the level of power you will need to make the most of your purchase. A class 1 laser will only be able to excite a small number of cells over a given area, while a class 4 laser can excite anywhere from 100 to 1,000 times the coverage of a class 1.
While you might be thinking that more power means better results, that isn’t always the case. This is especially true if your neuropathy presents only as tingling or numbness without pain. It also pays to consider the fact that lasers that fall within the 3 and 4 classes come with their own safety protocol because they can become hazardous in the wrong hands. Often, retailers will request some sort of proof of your condition or a clearance from a certified laser therapy provider before they can sell you higher class lasers.
Of course, there are non-FDA class 3 and 4 lasers that you can purchase without all the red tape. However it is assumed that any device that fails to get clearance from the FDA might have some sort of functionality or safety issues, so you will have to make that purchase at your own risk.
Peripheral neuropathy can be a major drawback for your functionality and independence and may even have some heavy emotional and psychological effects. However there are ways that you can treat the condition.
Aside from talking to your doctor about possible medication alternatives, consider discussing the potential of LLLT for neuropathy. While this particular treatment is fairly new in the industry, countless studies and anecdotal sources have testified for its efficacy. Plus, there really isn’t anything to lose if you want to give it a shot – especially if that means giving yourself a chance at a pain-free life.