Can Diabetic Neuropathy be Reversed, Cured, or Managed?

Can diabetic neuropathy be reversed?

Diabetic neuropathy is a common yet severe diabetes complication. It affects about 50% of people living with diabetes. Symptoms vary from mild to debilitating and complications can be as serious as diabetic foot ulcers and lower limb amputations. 

Nerve problems can appear in the first 10 years of diabetes. So far, science has not found any ways to reverse diabetic peripheral neuropathy. But there’s a lot you can do to prevent its outbreak, slow down its evolution, lessen its symptoms, ease the pain, and stay away from further complications. 

What is Diabetic Neuropathy?

Diabetic neuropathy happens when high blood sugar levels damage the nervous system over time and interfere with the nerves’ ability to send signals to the brain. Too much glucose in the blood also weakens the small vessels that bring oxygen and nutrients to the nerves. There are 4 types of diabetic neuropathy. 

Peripheral neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy – also called distal symmetric peripheral neuropathy – is the most common type of diabetic neuropathy. It affects the peripheral nervous system from the lower limbs, feet, legs, and sometimes the hands and arms. Peripheral neuropathy may affect up to 50% of people living with diabetes and the pain it causes is most commonly called “diabetic foot pain“. 

Autonomic neuropathy

Autonomic neuropathy is also quite common among diabetics. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for controlling important body functions such as breathing, heart beating, and digesting. Autonomic neuropathy usually affects the digestive system, but can also affect the urinary system, the eyes, and the sexual organs. According to the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), over 30% of diabetics have some sort of autonomic nervous system deficiency. 

Proximal neuropathy

Proximal neuropathy – also called diabetic polyradiculopathy or diabetic amyotrophy – usually affects the nerves in the thighs, hips, buttocks, or legs, often causing weaknesses. 

Focal neuropathy

Focal neuropathy – also called mononeuropathy – is when damage is caused to a specific nerve. It commonly happens in the hands, head, torso, or legs causing localized but severe pain. The carpal tunnel syndrome can result from diabetic focal neuropathy that affects around 25% of people with diabetes. 

What are the Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy?

Because peripheral neuropathy is the one that affects most people with diabetes, we’ll focus on it for this article. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy symptoms vary from mild to extremely painful. You might experience all, some, or only one of the symptoms. 

Numbness in the feet & legs

Numbness is probably the most common symptom of peripheral neuropathy. It’s a total or partial loss of feeling and sensation in the feet or hands. In the most severe cases, numbness can cause complications due to the inability to feel wounds or to be aware of the position of one’s feet. 

Tingling, sharp pains, or cramps

Other people with peripheral neuropathy suffer from tingling or burning sensations in the feet and lower limbs, or sharp pains and cramps. These symptoms can be mild discomforts for some or extremely debilitating for others. 

Increased sensitivity to touch

Another common symptom of peripheral diabetic neuropathy is an increased sensitivity to touch. In the worst cases, the mere contact with sheets can be unbearable. 

Foot complications, ulcers, and infections

Foot wounds, ulcers, and infections can be a sign of peripheral neuropathy in the feet. Due to loss of sensation and numbness, you may not notice that your footwear is causing sores or injuries. If not taken care of, unnoticed wounds can lead to infections and sometimes even diabetic foot ulcers.

Symptoms from diabetic neuropathy
Neuropathy symptoms vary from mild to extremely painful

Can Diabetic Neuropathy be Reversed?

Diabetic neuropathy can’t be reversed. The body does not have the ability to repair damaged nerves. However, early diagnosis and treatments are important in order to stop the progression and to reduce the risk of further harm. 

There's no cure for diabetic neuropathy

Repairing damaged nerves depends on the cause of the nerve damage. Peripheral neuropathy caused by vitamin deficiency can sometimes be reversed with vitamin therapy. Nerve damage caused by alcohol abuse can also be improved with an alcohol-free lifestyle. Cut or damaged nerves from injuries can be repaired surgically. 

But when neuropathy is caused by diabetes and high blood sugar levels, the  nerves can’t regenerate themselves. As of today, there’s no cure for diabetic neuropathy. 

Early diagnosis & treatment help stop neuropathy progression

Once damaged by diabetes the nerves can’t be repaired, but an early diagnosis along with an appropriate treatment considerably help slow down the progression of diabetic neuropathy and prevent further harm. 

When living with diabetes, you should have a diabetic foot exam at least once a year. If you experience any of the above symptoms, immediately seek your doctor’s advice. Blood glucose levels control, physical exercise, a healthy diet, proper diabetic foot care, and sometimes medical treatments can prevent diabetic neuropathy from getting worst. Meanwhile, there are lots of options to help relieve neuropathic pain too. 

Damaged nerves from diabetic neuropathy
Nerves damaged by diabetes can't be repaired

How to Relieve Diabetic Nerve Pain?

Damaged nerves can’t be repaired and diabetic neuropathy is not reversible. But that doesn’t mean pain and symptoms can’t be relieved! Fortunately, there are lots of methods, natural or medical, to help ease neuropathy symptoms and stop the suffering. 

Prescribed drugs

Severe cases of peripheral neuropathy may need prescribed drugs when other symptomatic treatments fail. Anti-seizure medications such as Gabapentin or Pregabalin can help relieve nerve pain. Antidepressants such as Amitriptyline, Doxepin, or Nortriptyline have also been found to help with neuropathic pain. 

These medications are delivered under medical prescription only. They can have strong undesirable side effects. Always ask for your doctor’s advice first.

Topical nerve pain relievers

Relieving nerve pain from diabetic neuropathy is most often achieved by local application of topical creams, gels, and lotions. Creams containing capsaicin or lidocaine have proven to work great. CBD-infused pain creams are also reported to have strong nerve pain relief effects. Some patients manage to ease the pain with cooling creams containing menthol crystals too. 

You might have to try several neuropathy creams out to see which works best for you. In any case, if you suffer from diabetic neuropathy, always ask for your doctor’s advice before applying any lotion on your feet. 

Shoes for diabetic neuropathy

When living with diabetic neuropathy, wearing appropriate footwear is essential. Diabetic shoes are professionally designed to alleviate foot pain and prevent complications from neuropathy. They’re non-binding with a protective interior that puts no pressure point on your feet. They provide extra support and promote pain-free motion. Neuropathy socks can also be a great addition if you suffer from neuropathy in the feet. They’re designed with a loose fit to help promote blood circulation. They’re usually seamless to prevent blisters and frictions, and are crafted in moisture-wicking materials to keep your feet in a dry and healthy environment. 

Massage helps with neuropathy

Massages also help with neuropathy. Massages have been used for centuries in every civilization for pain management, circulation booster, relaxation, and more. Foot massages can ease neuropathy symptoms and decrease the risks of complications in many ways. Massaging your feet regularly helps increase blood circulation, relieve pain, increase nerve sensitivity, reduce swelling, prevent foot ulcers, speed the wound healing process, and reduce the risk of blood clots. 

Electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a relatively new chronic pain and nerve disorder therapy that delivers low-voltage electrical impulses through the skin. It stimulates nerve fibers and reduces the transmission of pain signals from the nerves to the brain. 

TENS has gained a lot of popularity lately and studies show that it helps relieve diabetic nerve pain. It’s a small machine. You can use it at home or book sessions with your doctor or your physiotherapist.

Vitamins & supplements for neuropathy

Vitamins and supplements are often recommended to neuropathy patients. It’s unclear whether or not and to what extent they help prevent, treat, and alleviate diabetic neuropathy. But many people have reported the lessening of pain and the decreasing of symptoms intensity. 

Vitamin B-12, Alpha-lipoic acid, Acetyl-L-Carnitine, N-acetyl cysteine, Curcumin, and Fish oil are the ones usually used by neuropathy patients. Vitamins and dietary supplements for neuropathy must be part of a healthy and well-balanced diet. Always ask for your doctor’s advice first. 

Foot soaks for neuropathy

Soaking your feet in warm water can help relieve neuropathic pain and boost blood circulation. It’s also a great opportunity to try other home remedies such as Epsom salts, essential oils, or medicinal herbs by adding them to your foot bath. However, if you have damaged nerves, soaking your feet must be done carefully. It can also bring its share of complications. 

Physical therapy and diabetic nerve pain

Physical therapy – also known as physiotherapy – is a care that aims to ease pain and promote function and movement. It can be beneficial to neuropathy patients. A physical therapist may guide you towards nerve gliding activities, physical exercises, balance and coordination activities, as well as education and alternative solutions. Here’s a great physical therapy guide to peripheral neuropathy.

Herbs and essential oils for neuropathy

Alternative natural remedies such as herbs and essential oils have been used for centuries to relieve any kind of chronic pain. Some of them, such as Myrrh, Helichrysum Italicum, Frankincense, Peppermint, Basil, Chamomille, or Lavender, are believed to work great on peripheral neuropathy, alleviating its symptoms and helping to repair or stimulate the nervous system.

Acupuncture & neuropathy

Acupuncture is another alternative solution to manage neuropathy pain. This traditional Chinese medicine uses tiny needles inserted into the skin to stimulate the body’s healing abilities. Though research is still being conducted on the effects of acupuncture on nerve pain, some studies have shown that it stimulates the nervous system and releases endorphins to naturally ease the pain.

How to Prevent Diabetic Neuropathy?

As of today, there’s no cure for diabetic neuropathy. However, there are several steps and habits to take to prevent it from appearing and to slow down its evolution. With proper care and medical supervision, you can reduce the damages to your nerves and avoid most complications caused by diabetic neuropathy. 

Good blood sugar management

Managing your diabetes and keeping your blood sugar levels in the range is crucial to prevent peripheral neuropathy or slow down its evolution. What causes damages to the nerves are the repetitive high glucose levels over time. Follow your doctor’s recommendations, check your glucose regularly, keep a healthy diet, and shoot for an A1C below 7%

Healthy lifestyle

Alcohol, tobacco, and unhealthy foods don’t help with neuropathy. Following a healthy lifestyle, including physical exercise, does help prevent most diabetes complications including peripheral neuropathy. 

Foot care

Foot care won’t stop neuropathy but it will definitely help prevent its complications and ease the symptoms. Diabetic neuropathy can cause serious complications in the feet and lower limbs such as sores that don’t heal, foot ulcers, and even amputations. 

You should have your feet checked by professionals at least once a year and take good care of your feet at home. Check your feet daily, keep them dry and clean, and wear appropriate shoes for diabetes and neuropathy.