When everything is functioning as intended, it’s a lot like receiving a notification about an upcoming party you’re actually looking forward to. On the other hand, nerve damage (neuropathy) causes problems that are akin to receiving unwanted text messages from people you don’t know or spam/phishing emails from Russia. If I told you that my left fingers felt like they were on fire, but I was missing my left arm, you would be skeptical. But damaged nerves can create their own signals or messages that can range from weakness to shooting, burning, stabbing, or crushing pain. This is typical of end-stage neuropathy, but the beginning stage may be limited to a decrease or loss of sensation – like if your smartphone is in silent mode and you miss a dozen important calls!
Your Personal Information Superhighway
So your nervous system is a smartphone, the internet, and Facebook wrapped up all in one. It is responsible for transmitting information across your body. Some of the peripheral nerves are used to collect and convey information about temperature, pain, motion, and fine point sensation back to the central nervous system (your spinal column and brain).
It is worth noting that there are actually three types of peripheral nerves. The ones we just referenced are your sensory nerves, but there are also motor and automatic peripheral nerves as well. Your motor nerves enable voluntary movement. When you click “follow” on our Facebook page (as a completely random example), you are using motor nerves. Automatic nerves are the ones that maintain your skin temperature, keep your heart beating, and chest cavity expanding and collapsing (so you can take in air, which is kind of important).
What We Have Here is Failure to Communicate
Healthy nerves that function properly is an unlimited data plan with virus protection so no unwanted spam or robocalls get through. Peripheral neuropathy is like finding yourself included in a wrong number group text message that will not end. No matter how many times you reply “Listen, I do not want to join your cult. Please take me off this group text!”, you will still find yourself hearing about the generosity of the beloved Leader.
With regard to how neuropathy affects your body, the nerves will send mystery messages to the brain that give the sensation of burning, tingling, freezing, or sharp, jabbing pain (when there is no rational reason to do so). In some cases, the problem isn’t that you are receiving the wrong messages – it’s that you aren’t receiving any messages at all!
Numbness caused by neuropathy means that your brain doesn’t receive the message that your foot has been damaged. Sometimes, feeling sensation is restored—like spotty wi-fi—after extensive damage has taken place. This is how the “Gift of Pain” protects you and why it is so dangerous when the gift is lost.
Imagine, for example, walking on a broken bone or burst blister all day without even being aware of it. Cuts and scrapes can turn into ugly, infected ulcers if you have neuropathy and aren’t careful.