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Diabetic Neuropathy – Chinese Medicine View: Part I

The vast majority of neuropathy cases are found in people who have diabetes. For this reason it is simply referred to as diabetic neuropathy. The condition is often referred to as “odiopathic”, meaning the precise cause is unknown. Another term doctor’s assign to the condition is “peripheral” indicating that the only portion of the body affected is the arms or legs and not autonomic nervous system functions (like breathing).

The Western medical definition of neuropathy as described by the staff writers at Mayo Clinic:

Peripheral neuropathy, a result of nerve damage, often causes weakness, numbness and pain, usually in your hands and feet, but it may also occur in other areas of your body.

People generally describe the pain of peripheral neuropathy as tingling or burning, while they may compare the loss of sensation to the feeling of wearing a thin stocking or glove.

Peripheral neuropathy can result from problems such as traumatic injuries, infections, metabolic problems and exposure to toxins. One of the most common causes is diabetes.

In many cases, peripheral neuropathy symptoms improve with time, especially if the condition is caused by an underlying condition that can be treated. A number of medications are used to reduce the painful symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.

Chinese Medicine is becoming more widely recognized for being able to distinguish between symptoms and “underlying conditions”. According to Chinese Medicine philosophy, every ailment falls into a category of imbalances in relationship to the function of the internal organs. Upon physical examination, a skilled practitioner of Chinese Medicine can discern what internal organs are out of balance and predict how symptoms will progress given the severity of the imbalance. The pattern used to derive diagnoses is so sound in theory that it has been used for thousands of years and can be systematically applied to everything that exists in the universe… from an amoeba to a star… to determine its current health and life cycle information.

That being said, there are only two causes I have ever observed which result in the symptoms of diabetic peripheral neuropathy; poor systemic blood circulation or poor peripheral fluid circulation. The imbalances in the associated internal organs can be identified and a therapeutic regimen implemented to restore them to health.


Identification of “Neuropathy” Caused by Poor Systemic Blood Circulation

“Poor systemic blood circulation” means that the circulation of blood throughout the entire body is compromised. This blog details the signs associated with “poor systemic blood circulation”. Part II will cover the latter.



The skin becomes noticeably thinner or flaky in areas with poor circulation and can be injured easily. The affected skin areas often darken and get blotchy in patches. This happens so slowly that it may be barely noticeable until one has a significant degree of darkening in the area where socks are typically worn. Toenails become thick, brittle, yellow and misshapen. Lack of a healthy blood supply may cause toenails to turn dark and fall off.


Visual Vascular Signs

Veins around the knees may bulge. They typically become dark with standing blood. Smaller blood vessels near the surface of the skin begin to look thin and are often brown in color. Blood vessels can collapse leaving an indentation in the skin along the pathways. Veins may begin to stand out in a mosaic pattern, presenting themselves in a multitude of colors (blue, red, purple, brown and black) clearly visible on the skin. The darker the color, the longer dead blood cells have not circulated from that area.



Pain due to insufficient blood circulation develops very slowly over a long period of time.  Many people get used to occasional aches and pains or pain that occurs with regularity. Inevitably, as the condition becomes more severe, more aggravating symptoms arise. Sensitivity to heat, cold and touch becomes less prevalent and feet, legs or toes may begin to itch or tingle on a regular basis. The next step in the progression of lost circulation is pain that can best be described as “pins and needles”. Beyond this stage pain increases to a burning sensation that can be intermittent at first but eventually becomes a relentless burning affecting normal activities- including sleep. Cramps of the feet and legs are well known to accompany poor circulation at any stage. Ultimately, complete loss of sensation occurs. People with a condition that has progressed to this level often stumble because they cannot feel their feet.


Tissue Damage

With decreasing lack of blood flow appendages begin to feel more like wood as muscles and tendons atrophy. The joints won’t bend. This affects the way a person walks. With damage to this extent a person will tend to “shuffle” rather than stroll. The last stage, at which amputation is appropriately recommended, is necrosis. The appendages turn thin, hard and black and the dead tissue must be surgically removed to avoid gangrene. The progression of deterioration is similar to that which occurs when crimping techniques are used to castrate livestock or dock animals’ tails.

Good news! The damage is reversible up until the point necrosis is diagnosed!

Please continue with Diabetic Neuropathy: Chinese Medicine View Part II