What is Peripheral Neuropathy?

Peripheral neuropathy is not a single disease. It’s a general term for a series of disorders that result from damage to the body’s peripheral nervous system.

What is the peripheral nervous system?

The body’s nervous system is made up of two parts. The central nervous system (CNS) includes the brain and the spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system (PNS) connects the nerves running from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body…the arms and hands, legs and feet, internal organs, joints and even the mouth, eyes, ears, nose, and skin.

Peripheral neuropathy occurs when nerves are damaged or destroyed and can’t send messages from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles, skin and other parts of the body.

Peripheral nerves go from the brain and spinal cord to the arms, hands, legs, and feet. When damage occurs, numbness and pain in these areas may occur.

Peripheral neuropathy can affect multiple nerves (polyneuropathy) or only one nerve or nerve group (mononeuropathy) at a time.

Mononeuropathy is usually the result of damage to a single nerve or nerve group by trauma, injury, local compression, prolonged pressure, or inflammation.

Examples include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (a painful wrist and hand disorder often associated with repetitive tasks on a computer keyboard)
  • Bell’s palsy (a facial nerve disorder)

The majority of people, however, suffer from polyneuropathy, an umbrella term for damage involving many nerves at the same time.

The Nervous System

A. Cranial nerves

Cranial nerves go from your brain to your eyes, mouth, ears and other parts of your head.

B. Central nerves

Central nerves are in your brain and spinal cord.

C. Peripheral nerves

Peripheral nerves go from your spinal cord to your arms, hands, legs and feet.

D. Autonomic nerves

Autonomic nerves go from your spinal cord to your lungs, heart, stomach, intestines, bladder and sex organs.

Learn more about peripheral neuropathy


Some types of peripheral neuropathy develop suddenly, while others progress more slowly over many years.

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Causes of PN

Discover the many causes of peripheral neuropathy.

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Visiting Your Doctor

Here are some tips to help you get ready for your appointment and to know what to expect.

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A neurological evaluation is usually performed to diagnose peripheral neuropathy.

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Identify the type of pain medication that works best for managing symptoms.

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Glossary of Terms

Get a better understanding of the terms used for peripheral neuropathy.

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Additional Resources

Get even more information by researching these trusted resources. 

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