Treatments for Neuropathy

Neuropathy is a painful and sometimes severe condition where nerve damage causes pain, tingling, and numbness from affected sensory nerves, and lack of coordination or control in motor nerves. It can be caused by cancer treatment medications, high blood sugar levels, and other conditions, and is most common in the feet and legs. Effective treatment calms the nerves and restores blood and oxygen flow so that the damage can heal.

Acupuncture is one of the most effective treatments for neuropathy, with an over 75% success rate after a course of 4 or 5 weekly treatments. Most people maintain their improvements unless the condition is caused by medication they are still taking. The treatments work to improve nerve conduction and reduce the stagnation of energy in the limbs, restoring balance to the flow of the body.

Bodywork and massage treat neuropathy by focusing on restoring blood circulation to the small vessels that provide oxygen to the nerves in the feet and hands. Without enough oxygen, the nerves malfunction and send signals of pain, tingling, burning, and numbness. Treatments need to be at least 60 min once/week and focus on working as deeply as is comfortable, with the goal of eventually flushing all the stagnant blood out of the tissue. It is also important to do at least 15 min a day of self-massage and range of motion exercises at home to support the detailed work of the treatments and continue to make progress.

Therapeutic movement classes, like yoga and tai chi, strengthen the communication between nerves and brain and also help treat neuropathy. Opening up the front of the body increases oxygenation and improves blood circulation, helping to nourish the affected nerves. Classes also are generally calming to the nervous system, which helps ease the pain symptoms. Regular classes, especially when taken along with other treatments, help keep the pain from getting worse and support the healing process.

Neuropathy is an often painful condition that can be treated, and acupuncture, bodywork and massage, and movement classes like yoga and tai chi all help reduce pain, increase circulation, and support healing for damaged nerves. Because nerve pain is often due to a lack of oxygen, increasing blood flow can go a long way toward easing symptoms and creating health.

How Mindfulness Reduces Pain

Mindfulness is a specific form of meditation that has been proven to reduce pain. Clinical trials have shown it to reduce chronic pain by 57%, and accomplished meditators can achieve even higher levels of pain relief. Other studies have shown that it does not use the body’s own natural production of opioids or endorphins to accomplish these reductions, so how does it work?

The practice of mindfulness brings quiet, focused attention to the body and its sensations. Typical exercises help you observe with the mind’s eye, and just notice what is happening. When we are in pain, our minds spend a lot of time thinking about it, trying to solve it, and worrying if it will ever end. Mindfulness allows you to observe painful sensations as you feel them, and quiet the mind’s reactions and struggle.

This process has the biological effect of soothing the brain patterns of your pain perception. With regular mindfulness practice, these changes will alter the structure of the brain itself so that pain is not felt with the same intensity.

This works because there are two layers to the perception of pain. First, there is the sensation of the illness, injury, or damage to the body that is causing the pain. Second, there is the brain’s reaction to this sensation. The brain is trying to protect the body from further damage or injury and so it focuses on the sensations of pain. This effectively turns up the “volume” and increases suffering. For chronic pain, this process becomes a feedback loop, and the brain gets better and better at feeling more pain.

Mindfulness practice effectively turns the volume back down again, so that the brain does not amplify the pain signals the body is sending. This in turn reduces the pain-related anxiety, stress, and depression, and creates room for the body to begin to relax and then heal.

On the Psychology of Muscle

Your muscles take on the shape that they are accustomed to being in for hours every day. Any one thing, any repetitive motion, will shape the muscle and shape the fascia that surrounds it. The body responds so that the form follows the function, or that the function will make the form. What we want, then, is for our bodies to assume variable positions and activities throughout the day and throughout our life.

Changing positions can be challenging, though. It takes more than stretching to release a muscle, and we can’t force ourselves into a position when our body isn’t ready. Muscle fibers require a neurological signal in the form of a chemical messenger in order to release, and even though that signal comes from the brain, we don’t necessarily decide if our brain will send that signal. We can’t just tell our hamstrings to be less tight. What needs to happen is that the brain needs to feel that it is safe enough for that muscle to release.

So don’t over-stretch yourself into being over-burdened and over-committed. Dive into a conversation with yourself, befriend yourself, and gain an understanding of what your end stretch is and how much you can take on. There are times when we can take on a whole lot, and life circumstances change and we can take on even more. But nothing is constant, everything ebbs and flows, and it is our responsibility to listen to that ebb and flow and know if we need to back off or engage. What you did last summer may be very different from what you can do this summer, but if we go in with hearts wide open we can find opportunity.

Stay buoyant and responsive to where you and your body are in the process of holding and changing positions. We can’t force these processes, but we can work with them by knowing the parts of ourselves.

Cultivating Healthy Posture

Posture is one of the foundations of our overall health, and cultivating healthy posture is particularly important for our sense of wellbeing. The body’s ability to heal comes through movement, and every movement informs our posture, even as our posture informs our movement. The building blocks of healthy posture include ease and economy of motion, coordination, body-mind integration, and a balance between stability and mobility.

Postural issues can get locked into chronic holding patterns in the muscles of the body, causing ongoing muscle tension and discomfort. However, there is always a need for a certain baseline of healthy muscle tension to hold us upright and stable against the pull of gravity. This means that cultivating healthy posture is a complex process of supporting the tonic “anti-gravity” muscles even as we work to ease and release the dysfunctional chronic tension.

When we have pain, it signifies that we have dryness in the tissue, which means that the fibers have become rigid. We need to shift it back to being supple and juicy. One way is to learn to control those core and intrinsic muscles that help hold you upright. You can learn to engage the right muscles in the right order for certain movements, and to then relax any extra muscles that your body is trying to use instead of using its core. You can also use something called sensorimotor awareness, where you pay attention to certain parts of the body and how they move, and then adjust them as needed. Imagery can help you find the right alignments.

Working on healthy posture is progressive. The more you can learn to engage the right muscles and relax the extra ones who are trying to “help”, the better your posture will be. It is fundamentally a process of cultivating awareness, and can have tremendous benefits for overall health and wellbeing.

Treating Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar Fasciitis is foot pain, often in the form of a stabbing pain at the heel, and can be worst in the mornings. The pain comes from the plantar fascia, which is a band of connective tissue that connects the heel to the toes along the bottom of the foot. The arch of the foot is an important part of how the foot absorbs the force of the body against the ground (which can be 3-4 times your body weight with each step while running), and the plantar fascia is an important part of maintaining the right tension in the arch, so that it is neither too loose nor too tight.

The pain of Plantar Fasciitis usually comes from biomechanical issues like imbalanced posture, how you walk, or the shoes you wear. Though plantar fasciitis has traditionally been treated as an inflammatory problem, recent research indicates that it is not inflammation so much as collagen degeneration in the fascia. Treatment, then, needs to focus on the biomechanical dysfunction of the foot and how it relates to the rest of the body.

Bodywork like massage and myofascial release are especially effective at addressing these kinds of issues. There are fascial connections that run all the way from the bottom of the foot, along the back of the calf and thigh, and continue up the back and neck to the head. Tightness anywhere along these connections can then tighten the plantar fascia and cause pain. This means that releasing tight back muscles can relieve foot pain! Working with the body as an interconnected system helps address the dysfunction that is causing the plantar fasciitis in the first place.

The other key to addressing plantar fasciitis is blood and fluid flow. Fascia needs to be hydrated in order to stay healthy, and many shoes constrict circulation in the feet, even as they misalign or stress natural foot structures through raised heels, raised toes, and/or narrowing the toes in a pointed shape. Changing shoes and stimulating the nourishing flow of blood and fluid in the feet can help the fascia repair and rebuild its collagen. Massage, therapy balls, and gua sha are all effective for this kind of stimulation.
Plantar Fasciitis is a symptom, indicating a larger problem in how the body is standing, walking,  and/or running in general. Effective treatment needs to address much more of the body than just the feet and should be customized to the specific needs of each client. Bodywork and massage is especially effective at addressing the body in this way, and at HaLe’, we know how to treat the whole person in order to ease the pain and address the dysfunction of plantar fasciitis.

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