As any cancer patient knows, the side effects of cancer treatment can be troubling. If left untreated, they can also delay or interrupt your treatment.
An especially bothersome side effect of cancer is peripheral neuropathy. This condition includes numbness, burning, tingling, muscle weakness, loss of balance and consistent or sporadic pain. It occurs when nerves in the body are damaged by chemotherapy, surgery, radiation treatment, tumors that press on nerves or other causes. Peripheral neuropathy typically occurs in the limbs—legs, feet, arms, hands—but it can occur in anywhere in the body except the brain and central nervous system.
At our hospitals, we use acupuncture, one of the world’s oldest forms of medicine, to help relieve our patients’ peripheral neuropathy. The ancient Chinese medical practice, in which thin, sterile needles are inserted superficially into the skin in various areas of the body, may stimulate energy flow, restore balance, lessen pain and reduce the intensity and duration of neuropathy symptoms.
“People who have neuropathy in their feet sometimes say it feels like their toes are being smashed with a hammer or as though they are walking on marbles,” says Jennifer Feingold, LAc, MAc, PA-C, an acupuncturist at our Philadelphia hospital. “Some people lose their ability to use fine motor skills with their hands, such as cooking or fastening buttons.”
Feingold often sees cancer patients for peripheral neuropathy. She first obtains detailed histories from patients that combine physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of their lives. “All three help me formulate a diagnostic pattern and treatment plan,” she says.
Feingold learns when patients’ symptoms started, as well as at what time of day the symptoms tend to worsen or improve. She asks patients if certain activities exacerbate the symptoms, and what activities they can and cannot do. Additionally, she asks patients to provide a pain scale so she can monitor if the acupuncture is working to relieve symptoms.
“Each patient’s outcomes are unique and I have seen varied results,” she notes. “It is important to continue acupuncture treatments consistently. This is especially important when ongoing chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment is recommended by the patient's oncologist.”
Feingold recommends seeing an acupuncturist regularly (approximately two to three times a week) for beneficial treatment.
In addition to acupuncture, patients may want to take advantage of other integrative therapies for peripheral neuropathy, such as naturopathic medicine, chiropractic care and oncology rehabilitation. Our Rehabilitation Department uses the ReBuilder, an electrical stimulation device which attaches to the feet or hands and aims to reduce pain and peripheral neuropathy. Feingold says a combination of such therapies may provide significant relief to patients suffering from peripheral neuropathy.
Read more about peripheral neuropathy.
Learn more about acupuncture.