Peripheral Neuropathies: A Primer

Treatment options should focus on slowing progression, relieving pain, and restoring function.

Understanding the anatomy of the body’s nervous systems not only assists clinicians with diagnosing a patient with peripheral neuropathy, it also allows patients to understand how treatments and approaches can assist them in alleviating pain.

Speaking at PAINWeek 2015 earlier this month, Natalie H. Strand, MD, a physician at Freedom Pain Hospital—an Arizona-based institution dedicated to managing individuals with chronic pain—described the pathophysiology of peripheral neuropathies and the clinical presentation of painful peripheral neuropathies; reviewed the anatomy of the nervous system and available diagnostic testing for peripheral neuropathy; and reviewed treatment for painful peripheral neuropathy.

Peripheral neuropathy is a condition that encompasses a group of disorders that may involve a single nerve root (mononeuropathy), multiple individual nerves (mononeuropathy multiplex), or small fibers that do not conform to dermatomes (peripheral polyneuropathies). 

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The nervous system is made up of neurons, which contain cell bodies that contain a nucleus, mitochondria, and organelles; dendrites that pick up signal; and axons that send signals onward to other neurons or effector cells in the body. There are 3 basic classes of neurons: afferent neurons, efferent neurons, and interneurons. Neurons are vital to maintain the functional nervous system and essential to body function; these nerve cells rarely reproduce.

Neuroglia (also known as glial cells) act as “helper” cells of the nervous systems. Neurons are surrounded by from 6 to 60 neuroglia that protect, feed, and insulate the neuron. 

This article originally appeared on MPR