Being a massage therapist means answering a lot of questions that start with “Can massage help with…?” In between “rotator cuff injury” and “back pain from lifting heavy things” sometimes I get lesser known and more nuanced health issues like “Peripheral Neuropathy”.
Peripheral Neuropathy refers to damage to the nerves and nervous system outside of the brain and spine. While it can cause issues with some organ function and digestion, it is most commonly characterized by feelings of numbness, tingling, or pain in the hands and feet. At least, that’s what most people who come to a massage therapist for relief are experiencing.
But let’s back up a bit and learn about the causes of Peripheral Neuropathy (PN).
With PN, nerve signaling can be disrupted in three ways. There could be a loss of signal entirely, like when your toe just doesn’t get the message that it should wiggle. There could be an unexpected signal when there should not be any signal at all, like if your toe started wiggling when you didn’t tell it to. Or there could be a distorted message, like if you want your toe to grip onto that flip flop but it just clenches a bit and doesn’t finish the job.
PN can be caused by injury, a health issue like diabetes or autoimmune disorders, medications or chemotherapy, and we’re now seeing cases of PN in people who had COVID-19.
PN can be mild and merely annoying or can be quite painful and disabling. The symptoms can vary depending on the severity of damage and the type of nerves involved (motor, sensory, or autonomic). Some cases of PN resolve on their own and others won’t resolve even with intervention.
So yes, there’s a huge variety in causes and presentations of Peripheral Neuropathy cases and diagnosing and treating can be complex. It is helpful to keep in mind that PN is most often a symptom of some other issue, so it can be most effective to treat that primary issue and then treat the PN secondarily.
Can massage help?
Maybe, depending on the cause of the PN.
If neuropathy is the result of an injury and the nerves are being squished and traumatized by tight muscles and swollen soft tissue, massage may help ease that muscle tension and lymphatic massage techniques may help reduce swelling.
In a body that has been less-than-active, massage and gentle range of motion techniques may improve the circulation and promote healing of the nerves and tissues.
Moreover, we know that massage is extremely beneficial for anxiety and depression, and people in pain are disproportionately faced with anxiety and depression. Pain is exhausting, and defeating, and did I mention exhausting? Skilled touch can provide a period of pain relief that allows the client a respite and even a reduced pain level that allows for a little more compliance with a structured rehab plan.
Massage, specifically for Peripheral Neuropathy or otherwise, is a beautiful companion to other pain management efforts. If you would like to connect about treating your PN, please reach out.