Nearly 20 million people are diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, but the National Institutes of Health estimates the true number may be much higher. That’s because not everyone knows to seek treatment for it because the symptoms can be rather surprising. Peripheral neurography is most known for the burning pain and pins-and-needles sensations it causes. However, it can also cause balance issues.
Below, our team of neurology specialists explains the surprising connection between balance issues and peripheral neuropathy and how to tell if your symptoms are related.
Why peripheral neuropathy causes balance issues
Peripheral neuropathy is damage to any of the nerves outside your spinal column. This includes three types of nerves: sensory, motor, and autonomic.
Depending on which nerve is damaged, your symptoms can vary. For example, if your sensory nerves are damaged, it can affect what you feel. This can result in burning, tingling, or even numbness.
The numbness can contribute to balance issues because it makes it difficult to feel where your feet are or determine where your body is relative to the ground. This can make you feel off balance.
Neuropathy can make you feel off balance in other ways too. If your vestibular nerve is damaged, it can cause dizziness and vertigo 一 both of which can quickly knock you off balance.
Is peripheral neuropathy causing your balance issues?
Peripheral neuropathy does cause balance issues, but many different conditions can cause balance and coordination issues, so it’s important to know for sure what’s the underlying cause of your loss of balance.
Other conditions that cause balance issues include side effects of medication, vision problems, and movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease.
That being said, you might suspect that your balance issues are linked to peripheral neuropathy if you experience other neuropathy symptoms, which can include:
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle cramps and twitches
- Changes in hair, skin, or nails
- Loss of sensation
- Pins and needles
Depending on which nerves are affected, you can experience more severe symptoms, including loss of bladder and bowel function, emotional disturbances, sleep disruptions, trouble eating and swallowing, and inability to sweat.
Diagnosing and treating peripheral neuropathy
The key to finding the right treatment is reaching an accurate diagnosis. Because these symptoms can vary and overlap with other conditions, our team takes a methodical approach. We record an extensive medical history and perform a physical examination. We may order specific diagnostic tests, such as blood work, muscle strength tests, spinal fluid tests, biopsies, electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies, CT scans, and MRI scans.
Treating peripheral neuropathy is the first step in helping you avoid unmanaged neuropathy complications, including your balance issues. Balance issues can cause serious incidents. You could lose your balance, fall, and cut yourself and not even realize it because of loss of sensation — this only compounds the issues caused by peripheral neuropathy.
If neuropathy is indeed the source of your balance issues, our team gets you started with physical therapy. The exercises and stretches included in physical therapy are instrumental in supporting muscle growth, improving balance and coordination, and helping prevent falls. We may also recommend medication, interventional therapies, or minimally invasive surgery.
If neuropathy isn’t the source of your balance issues, our team of expert neurosurgeons can help you get the right treatment for the movement disorders affecting your balance.
Don’t ignore balance issues
Sometimes sudden-onset balance issues can become an emergency. If you’ve suddenly lost your coordination and feel dizzy, call 9-1-1, as that can signify a stroke.
The bottom line is that if you’re feeling off balance, don’t ignore it. Losing your balance can be dangerous and lead to severe injuries, including fractures and head injuries. Whether you suspect your balance issues are related to neuropathy or a movement disorder, our team is ready to help.
Call our Oxnard or Santa Barbara, California, office, or schedule an appointment via our online booking tool.