Peripheral nerve damage is a difficult condition to address. The standard treatments are effective (for some) at numbing the symptoms of neuropathy, but at the same time allow the nerve damage to continue deteriorating. Alternative treatments like whole-body vibration therapy are showing promise when it comes to reducing painful symptoms of nerve damage, and encouraging nerve growth at the very same time.
The most effective way to combat peripheral nerve damage is to encourage your body’s natural healing and regenerative processes. Helping your body heal itself. Your nerves, just like the rest of your body, want to be healthy! As such, your body is full of systems that are designed to help keep them that way…but they can’t always stand up to the imposing presence of the perpetrators that cause peripheral nerve damage.
When neuropathy sets in and our nerves start to die off, the symptoms can be painful. The current standard treatment is designed to address these sensory symptoms with medications, but they do not address the nerve damage that’s been caused. While these medications successfully mask the symptoms (for some people), the actual nerve damage is allowed to progress, unabated.
The more we learn about treating nerve damage, the more it becomes clear that a whole-body approach is best. Whenever possible, the first step should be eliminating the cause of the damage. But even when the cause cannot be removed, recovery is often still obtainable by focusing on the foundations for nerve health that you do have control over.
There are a number of ways to go about promoting nerve growth and regeneration, like promoting oxygenation and blood flow. And whole-body vibration is one option to go about it.
When Conventional Treatments Just Aren’t Enough
The conventional approaches to treating peripheral nerve damage can be…controversial, to put it lightly. Medications aimed at dampening pain signals may provide relief to some patients temporarily, but the risks are great and the dosage must continue to climb with long term use.
Anticonvulsants and Gabapentinoids
In the absence of an effective way to treat nerve damage that can sometimes present itself without an apparent cause, many doctors have turned to medications that are actually designed to treat seizures. Anticonvulsants work to essentially shut off your nerves, given that a seizure is essentially a misfiring of your nervous system, on a massive scale.
Gabapentinoids are a specific class of anticonvulsant medication that have become popular in the treatment of peripheral neuropathy, but only as far as the symptoms are concerned.
While these medications are successful for some patients at shutting down the pain pathway that can spare them some of the more unbearable sensory symptoms of nerve damage, gabapentinoids don’t actually treat the cause of that damage or promote healing. This means that nerve degradation continues to escalate.
Some of the commonly known gabapentinoids used for neuropathy are Gabapentin, Lyrica, Neurontin, Gralise, Horizant, Tarlige
Perhaps the most obvious downside to the use of opioids for nerve damage treatment is the fact that these medications tend to be highly addictive and have a host of negative side effects, including kidney damage. Even more troublesome is the fact that these drugs could actually raise the likelihood of long term pain. They’re only shutting down the painful sensory symptoms that come with your nerve damage, and aren’t actually stopping the cause or encouraging your body’s healing process. In fact, opioids don’t just trigger a rush of the neurotransmitter dopamine that provides that pain-relieving effect. At the same time, they damped the central nervous system, your brain and spinal cord, which controls all of your vital body functions. So while opioid painkillers may temporarily hide the pain, they contribute to overall ill health, and that includes nerve health.
Some of the commonly known opioids used for neuropathy are OxyContin, Vicodin, Fentanyl, Morphine, Methadone, Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Tramadol, Buprenorphine, Hydromorphone
Your nervous system uses a series of chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters to do its job. Several of these neurotransmitters are also important players when it comes to your body’s ability to regulate things like mood and your emotional state.
Certain antidepressants can help your body to regulate the production of neurotransmitters, resulting in mood stabilization. They’ve also been found to help treat some of the pain that can come along with peripheral nerve damage, even though they’re not actually approved by the FDA for this use. Antidepressants can be helpful to get through sometimes agonizing and life-altering nerve damage. If you’ve been experiencing hopelessness and suicidal thoughts, please see a psychiatrist (preferably) or another medical doctor. You may need an anti-depressant to supplement your neurotransmitters during this difficult time.
Like all other medications given for neuropathy, though, the nerve damage is not being addressed and will continue to worsen.
Some of the commonly known are Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Lexapro, Celexa. Prozac, Paxil, Luvox, Sarafem, Cymbalta, Vestra
If you’ve been prescribed an anti-depressant, do not stop taking the medication without consulting with your doctor. Abruptly stopping some anti-depressants can cause serious side effects.
Vibration Therapy As a Safe and Potentially Effective Alternative
Since many of the conventional treatments for peripheral nerve damage offer less-than-desirable results in most instances, there’s an understandable screaming demand for alternative options.
While there is currently no FDA-approved therapy to directly treat neuropathy, there are therapies that support the foundations that have been established for nerve health.
Whole-body vibration therapy does just that in many ways, including:
- Increased blood flow
- Stronger muscles to stimulate nerves
- Increased oxygenation
- Improved strength and balance
- Improved sensory function
Not only can vibration therapy help to encourage your body’s natural capacity for nerve regeneration, but it may also lessen the pain associated with nerve damage at the very same time.
Blood Flow Helps Your Nerves Recover from Damage
One of the most important things to understand about whole-body vibration therapy is the relationship that exists between your blood and your nervous system. It’s closer than you might think. Good circulation and healthy nerves go hand-in-hand, and this is why many of the most effective methods for fighting peripheral nerve damage involve encouraging better circulation to the periphery.
Exercise is one of the most effective ways to encourage sustained blood flow throughout the body, but the simple fact of the matter is that exercise is simply not always a viable option. This can be the case for a number of different reasons. Some patients are simply too frail, weak, or have too much pain for regular exercise, while others have had their nerve damage progress to a point that makes exercise entirely impossible.
Whole-Body Vibration Provides the Benefits of Exercise
When exercise just isn’t a good option, whole-body vibration therapy can be a highly effective alternative, producing many of the same effects with few of the associated risks.
In fact, whole-body vibration therapy can actually be a pretty decent replacement for exercise for people with debilitating neuropathy and has been shown to have a similar impact on the muscles as resistance training. Mayo Clinic’s Edward Laskowski, M.D. reports, “Advocates say that as little as 15 minutes a day of whole-body vibration three times a week may aid weight loss, burn fat, improve flexibility, enhance blood flow, reduce muscle soreness after exercise, build strength and decrease the stress hormone cortisol.”
Whole-body vibration therapy produces positive effects similar to what might be most typically seen after a round of vigorous resistance-based exercise.
Stimulating Your Muscles the Safe Way
Much of the discussion around whole-body vibration therapy centers around its status as a type of exercise. This might seem counterintuitive, at first. If you’re just standing on a platform, not moving as it vibrates your entire body…are you really actually exercising at all?
The answer, interestingly enough, is yes! Whole-body vibration therapy is actually something that’s referred to as a “passive exercise modality.” Another way of putting this is to say that, instead of your body actively exerting an effort, it’s standing still while it has something done to it, from an external source.
So while you’re technically getting “exercise,” you’re not actually actively exercising yourself.
Consider it another way — when you exercise, the whole goal is to exert your muscles. This is the actual “exercise” part that’s happening. As such, whole-body vibration therapy is “exercising” the muscles in your body, just in a way that doesn’t require you to move around, lift things, or go through any of the other physical exertion that we commonly associate with a normal workout.
This low-impact form of exercise makes whole-body vibration therapy a great option for those of us that don’t have the option of performing more conventional exercises safely.
Work Yourself Out, Without Working Out
The mechanisms behind whole-body vibration therapy are as interesting as they are intuitive. The primary reasons that exercise is so helpful in the fight against peripheral nerve damage are twofold:
1. Muscle Contraction = Nerve Use
When you exercise your muscles, you’re sending constant signals to them. Your muscles, after all, are put to use when they’re reached by signals that travel from your brain through the nervous system. Exercise activates these nerves, which is one of the best ways to keep them healthy and functional.
2. Increase Blood Flow and Oxygenation
Muscle use also signals your body to increase blood flow to the area, in addition to oxygenating your blood more thoroughly by increasing your breathing rate and elevating your heartbeat. The increased flow of highly oxygenated blood through your body is nourishing to your nerves, encouraging their healing and feeding them the nutrients they need to be strong.
Whole-body vibration therapy accomplishes both of these things by sending oscillating vibrations through the entire body by use of a vibration platform or pad. The vibrations stimulate micro-expansion and contraction, in the same way that they might during a round of exercise, but smaller and more frequent.
This type of physiotherapy is an effective way, then, to encourage an increased flow of oxygenated blood while also activating the nerves which innervate your muscles, as well.
What are the Health Benefits of Vibration Therapy?
While more research is needed, the more studies that are performed on this method, the more it shows potential to be highly effective when it comes to calming some of the more painful and debilitating symptoms that come with peripheral nerve damage.
Whole-body vibration therapy is showing promise when it comes to the following:
- Reduced pain and sensitivity due to sensory symptoms of peripheral neuropathy
- Improved muscle strength, resulting in higher levels of balance and coordination — this reduces the risk for dangerous falls and accidents
- Increased vibration sensitivity, helping with gait improvement and a reduced risk for resulting alignment issues
- Increased nervous system stimulation
- Increased sensory nerve function
- Alleviate stress
- Boost metabolism
What are the Risks of Vibration Therapy?
Vibration therapy may have dangerous risks if the intensity is too high. Talk to your doctor before starting vibration therapy at home, especially if you:
- have very advanced stages of diabetes
- have heart disease
- are taking blood thinner medications
- are pregnant
- have cancer
The Takeaway About Complementary Vibration Therapy
Much of the research behind whole-body vibration therapy (1) (2) (3) is in its relative infancy. A lot of it is recently performed, and many of the available papers mention that further research is necessary. Still, the available research is highly convincing, and anecdotal evidence is showing with increasing frequency that whole-body vibration therapy is one of the more effective complementary therapies available.
Of course, the term “complementary therapy” implies that whole-body vibration therapy isn’t enough on its own. It must be enacted with other effective therapies that have been shown to encourage nerve growth and regeneration, as well. When it’s possible, it’s best to eliminate the cause of neuropathy, too (though this is quite simply not always an option).
When whole-body vibration therapy is combined with the right type of diet and other nerve-friendly lifestyle strategies, though, it’s been shown to be a safe and effective way to encourage the body’s natural healing and regeneration processes. When it comes to the often painful symptoms of peripheral nerve damage, a bit of lasting relief can definitely go a good, long way.
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