Damage to the sensory nerves or sensory nerve pathways can cause an extremely painful condition called neuropathy. It’s common in neurological conditions, as well as conditions such as diabetes and even damage from chemotherapy. What does it feel like? Depending on the person – it can present as burning pain, numbness, tingling, hypersensitivity, buzzing, and other weird sensations.
Neuropathic pain is unique in that it doesn’t typically respond to pain medication like aspirin or even opioids. In fact, the medications most commonly used for it include drugs that are also used for epilepsy since the signal disruption caused by neuropathy is closer to a mini-seizure than a normal “pain.”
The problem with any type of pain is that it can become hardwired in the brain. Feel pain long enough and it actually changes how your brain works. So, to “cure” the pain requires your brain unlearning it. And that’s where desensitization comes into play.
Let’s say your feet hurt. You probably limit walking and wear thick soled shoes so you avoid feeling the pressure of the ground as much as possible. But to turn down the hyperactive pain signals, you need to touch your feet. Massage can be helpful. So can introducing different textures.
One of my favorite techniques is to use a sandbox. Go to the Container Store and get a box big enough to insert your painful foot. Fill it with sand (or alternately, rice), and press your foot into it, moving it around softly and more firmly. Curl your toes, and spread your toes. Importantly – focus on the pleasantness of the sensations. Better yet – take a vacation to the beach where you can introduce sand and water! Here’s a great blog post on just that!
Your brain can adapt to the problem, rewire, and voila – neuropathic pain lessens or disappears completely. Bonus – you strengthen the intrinsic foot muscles.
(Note that you have to do desensitization exercises daily – the brain is slow to make these changes).
Want to learn more about the brain-body connection? Check out our workshops in person or on-line.