Your nervous system is always hard at work, helping you breathe, digest food, feel the sunshine, and even move your eyes so you can read this blog post. Yet as essential as this network of nerves is to your health and wellness, most of us don’t give it much thought — unless it starts giving us problems.
At Berkower Pain & Spine Rehabilitation in Pembroke Pines, Florida, David Berkower, DO, wants his patients to understand their nerves — how they work, how they interact, and how they can affect your life — especially if they develop a problem, like peripheral neuropathy. This quick overview can help you understand your nerves, so you can know when to seek treatment.
Facts about the nervous system
There are two basic “parts” or divisions of your nervous system: the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system includes your brain and spinal column, while your peripheral nerves travel throughout the rest of your body.
Your nerves are made up of special cells called neurons. Together, your nerves form pathways that connect your brain to every other part of your body. Electrical nerve signals travel along these pathways, allowing your brain and every part of your body to communicate with each other.
To communicate, nerves release chemicals called neurotransmitters. These chemicals allow nerves to communicate across tiny gaps called synapses. A single nerve signal may involve many nerves and many synapses before the signal reaches its target. You can learn more about the individual components of nerves at the National Institutes of Health website here.
A closer look at the peripheral nervous system
The peripheral nervous system can be broken down further into the autonomic nervous system and the somatic nervous system. The autonomic system controls functions that happen “automatically,” such as respiration, heart activity, and circulation. The somatic system controls voluntary movements and activities, such as moving your arms and legs when you’re walking.
The somatic system includes two main types of nerves: sensory nerves and motor nerves. Like the names imply, sensory nerves help you sense things, such as touch or pain, while motor nerves control your muscle movements.
The somatic system also includes two main groups of nerves: cranial nerves and spinal nerves. Cranial nerves control sensory and motor functions in your head, face, and neck, while spinal nerves branch out from your spine at specific points, then travel to other parts of your body, including your limbs and organs.
Peripheral neuropathy is a common nerve problem that affects more than 20 million Americans. Neuropathy happens when something happens to interrupt the nerve signals that travel back and forth along a specific nerve pathway. Often, neuropathy happens as a result of nerve compression — commonly referred to as a “pinched” nerve.
When a nerve is compressed, the signal traveling along that nerve is blocked or “fuzzy,” which means your brain isn’t receiving the full signal. Sciatica is a well-known type of peripheral neuropathy.
Nerve compression can cause a lot of unpleasant symptoms, such as:
- Burning sensations
- Pins-and-needles sensations
- Loss of coordination
- Muscle weakness
- Problems with digestion
Severe types of neuropathy can cause a loss of bowel or bladder control.
Nerve compression isn’t the only cause of peripheral nerve problems. Neuromuscular diseases, tumors, and even diabetes can all damage nerves and cause problems with the chemical signaling processes that allow your nerves to communicate.
Treating peripheral neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy can take a toll on your life, interfering with everyday activities and even making it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Dr. Berkower tailors nerve treatments to each patient’s unique needs, symptoms, lifestyle, and more. Depending on your needs, your treatment may include:
- Lifestyle modifications
- Physical therapy
- Injections to relieve inflammation around nerves
- Nerve blocks
Neuropathy symptoms may be relatively mild or minor initially, but without treatment, they can become a lot worse. If you postpone treatment too long, you could develop permanent nerve damage.
At Berkower Pain & Spine Rehabilitation, patients have access to a wide array of treatment options, so they can feel confident their treatment will be the most appropriate choice. To learn more about treatment options for peripheral neuropathy or other nerve-related problems, call 954-430-9972 or book an appointment online with Dr. Berkower today.