Chemotherapy Induced Peripheral Neuropathy

Physical therapy, including low level laser therapy, can help patients experiencing chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy.

What is chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy?

Chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is a common side effect of chemotherapy causing damage to nerves. The nerves that incur damage are peripheral nerves, which are located outside of the brain and spinal cord. Some chemotherapies are more likely to cause nerve damage than others, such as taxanes, alkaloids, and platinum based drugs. 

Common symptoms of CIPN include: numbness, tingling, pain, weakness, and muscle cramps. CIPN symptoms tend to be symmetrical and start in the fingers and toes and progress towards the centre of the body. Those who have symptoms in their hands may have difficulty doing up buttons or tying shoe laces. Those who have symptoms in their feet may have difficulty walking or with balance. More rare symptoms can include changes in heart rate, difficulty breathing, paralysis and organ failure. Symptoms can begin during or up to months after chemotherapy treatment.

Causes of chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy

Although the exact mechanisms of action of chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy are not clear, there are many proposed pathways that differ depending on the chemotherapeutic agent or agents used.

The type, dosage, and number of cycles of chemotherapy all have an impact on the overall risk of developing CIPN. Other non-medication related risk factors include increased age, diabetes, vitamin deficiencies and other pre-existing peripheral neuropathies.

Treating chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy

There are currently several treatment options for CIPN, although most are still in the earlier stages of research. Some medications can help provide relief of symptoms, which can be prescribed by your doctor. Low level laser therapy (LLLT) is a non-pharmaceutical option that may also help to relieve symptoms. 

Physiotherapy can help those affected by CIPN to regain balance, strength, and fine motor skills through individualized exercises programs, recommendations of gait aids and assistive devices. 

Breast Rehab therapists are trained and experienced in assessing CIPN and can help design a comprehensive and individualized treatment plan to help you get back to doing what you love.