Q. After two surgical operations on my rectum and colon and receiving chemotherapy, I have numbness and reduced sensitivity in my fingers and feet. My doctors suggested Gabapentin, but it gave me problems with my sense of balance. Is there anything else I can do to lessen these symptoms?

A.

The numbness and reduced sensitivity in your fingers and feet is called peripheral neuropathy, which is nerve damage that often results from certain chemotherapy treatments (e.g., oxaliplatin). It is sometimes referred to as the “glove and stocking sensation,” as it feels similar to wearing gloves or thick stockings on your hands or feet.

Certain medications can reduce the pain and annoying physical sensations that accompany neuropathy while the nerves repair themselves. Gabapentin relieves the pain of neuropathy by changing the way your body senses pain. It is meant to control your condition but will not cure it. Fortunately, there are several other types of medications for neuropathy, including anticonvulsants, antidepressants, local anesthetics, and opioids, that can be taken individually or in combination. Work with your doctor to find the right approach for you. Keep in mind that it can take one to two years or more for symptoms to go away completely.

Here are some tips that may help you manage and cope with the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy:

  • Avoid drinking alcohol, which can damage nerves.
  • Wear sneakers or shoes with “rocker bottoms” that allow the feet to roll while walking, provide better traction and can relieve some of the pressure on the soles.
  • Remove throw rugs from your home to reduce the chance of slipping and falling.
  • Rather than stand, sit down while doing activities such as drying your hair, applying makeup or preparing food.
  • Use hand tools, kitchen utensils, and even toothbrushes and pens with wider grips, to make them easier to hold.
  • If you have diabetes, manage your blood sugar level very carefully, as high levels can have a negative impact on nerves.
  • Join a support group to learn how others lived with, and overcome, the challenges of neuropathy.
  • Consult a psychiatrist, physical therapist, or occupational therapist who can provide guidance tailored to your specific circumstances.
  • CancerCare has several resources to help you learn more about living with neuropathy. Listen to our Connect Education Workshop podcast, Understanding Peripheral Neuropathy.

For additional help and support, visit the The Neuropathy Association’s website.