At Oncology Rehab and Wellness, we treat neuropathy in cancer patients (termed "chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy" or CIPN) from many angles, providing a comprehensive approach to healing neuropathy. In previous posts, we discussed certain types of topical stimulation for relieving and healing neuropathy and specific exercises that help. Here, we want to mention some of the additional physical therapies that we have used, with good results.
There are medications that reduce this type of pain, of course, but that is an expensive, unsustainable, and temporary fix, and sometimes medications alone do not help. In addition, most medications come with side effects that may or may not be acceptable to patients. We focus on therapies that promote lasting healing and relief from neuropathy symptoms.
Massage for Neuropathy
A 2011 study demonstrated reduction of CIPN pain in one cancer patient through manual therapy. A 2019 study of 40 breast-cancer patients showed the same reduction of pain, and also improvements in nerve health via several metrics. And of course there are numerous reports from patients and physicians about the benefits of massage (properly conducted). Using a menthol cream during the massage can provide additional benefit (PubMed).
Not every kind of massage is equally good for neuropathy, and some may even make the problem worse. Certain strokes (see one demo here) are appropriate for neuropathy and others are not. Some types of massage you or a family member may be able to perform at home, but it is best to get a professional assessment first, by someone who will hear your whole story and situation and create a customized plan. You can be educated on the correct ways to (and not to) do massage.
Heat Therapies for Neuropathy
Many cancer patients use some form of heat-therapy self-care to manage their neuropathy (PubMed). This “thermotherapy” can be as simple as a hot-water bottle or a foot bath. Other therapies can include infrared saunas or heating pads. These are more expensive and we recommend a “try before you buy” approach.
Heat promotes relaxation and increases circulation. However, reduced lack of sensation in the extremities could cause you to apply unsafe levels of heat, leading to burns. Get appropriate help and don’t DIY this if your neuropathy is keeping you from sensing temperatures accurately.
Also, keep in mind that increasing circulation can promote healing, but it can also result in over-inflammation, so some care and good sense is required. “Cryotherapies” (application of cold) can reduce inflammation, but will slow circulation; they may be appropriate in certain situations and not in others. Get good advice, and if something isn’t working, stop.
Low-Level Laser Therapy for Neuropathy
Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) has been shown to reduce inflammation, accelerate tissue regeneration (healing, etc.), and reduce pain. It can also assist with lymphedema and other symptoms of cancer or its various conventional treatments (PubMed). Our therapists can advise on an appropriate type and regimen of LLLT if it applies to your situation.
Electrical and Pressure Stimulation for Neuropathy
The ReBuilder® and LymphaTouch® devices and their associated functions were discussed in the previous post. They are producing awesome results in clinical studies and with our patients! If you didn’t read that post, go check it out now!
Nutrition for Neuropathy
We don’t have space to go into detail now, but just know that our therapists also consider nutrition to be vital in healing from neuropathy. Our nutrition services provide customized guidance to maximize your recovery. We have talked recently on the blog about nutrition for cancer in general, and for osteoporosis in particular; be on the lookout for a post about specific foods and supplements for neuropathy in the future.
Bottom Line: There is Hope!
If you think neuropathy is just some unavoidable consequence of cancer treatments, or that “drugs forever” is the only management technique, think again! A well-rounded approach can avoid or mitigate a lot of these symptoms, and there are many, many healthy and natural ways to deal with them if they do occur.
If you have any concerns about neuropathy as a result of any cancer treatment, please call us to schedule a consultation with one of our therapists.