What is peripheral neuropathy?
Your child's hands or feet may hurt, tingle or feel numb or weak. Vincristine, vinblastine, and topoteccan are drugs that may cause these problems. Though your child feels discomfort in a muscle or joint, the real damage is to the nerves going to the muscles. The nerves will begin to heal after your child is finished with these drugs, but it may take a long time. Your child’s doctor may prescribe drugs to ease the pain, but time is the only true healer.
Weakness begins in the muscles around the arch of the foot and in the palm of the hand. It may be difficult to grip things, or the feet may be flat when standing. Next, the muscles that pull the foot up may weaken, and the reflexes may be lost, causing the foot to drop. The way your child walks may change. Or he may only walk differently when he is tired. He may drag his feet or lift them high to keep them from dragging. You may notice his big toe comes up when he walks because he is using that muscle to help the weaker ones. He may also have trouble with activities such as writing or buttoning.
What can Rehabilitation Services do to help?
Treatment is directed at the symptoms. The Rehab staff wants to prevent any further problems while waiting for the nerve to heal. They can help your child adapt to the weakness through splints called ankle-foot-orthoses or AFO's. They can also teach you and your child some ways to make difficult activities easier and suggest ways to help with the pain.
Your child may need support for his feet or ankles. Arch supports or splints help prevent the arch from flattening and help your child walk better. Splints prevent the ankle from moving too much from side to side and hold the foot up. Your child will need to wear them until strength and function return. Without this support, your child may be at risk for ankle strains or sprains. Orthotic devices also allow your child to use less energy when walking. They hold the feet up so that the child is able to walk longer distances. This helps the heart and lungs and gives your child the endurance for more activity.
Special tricks and tools will improve hand use. Rehab staff members will show you some ways to help your child be more independent. For example, button loops may be a help to your child while their hand and finger muscles are still weak. Sometimes a simple grip buildup to crayons will help him color without getting too tired.
Your doctor may prescribe medicine for pain. Elastic stockings or hot packs can also help. A device about the size of a beeper called TENS may help by stimulating the nerve. Exercise is also helpful. These things will not replace medicines but may decrease the need for them. They may also help restore mobility and promote independence.
If you have questions about peripheral neuropathy, call Rehabilitation Services at 595-3621. If you are inside the hospital, dial 3621. If you are outside the Memphis area, call toll-free 1-866-2ST-JUDE (1-866-278-5833), extension 3621.
This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.
St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.
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