Q I am 68 and have numbness on the fingers of both my hands as well as on the sole of my right foot, near the toes.
This has been going on for about 18 months and the doctor at the polyclinic I went to gave me B-complex tablets.
I have been taking these tablets but there has been no improvement.
What should I do? Can traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) be of any help?
A. Numbness in your fingers and along the sole of your right foot is likely due to nerve damage.
This symptom often crops up in diseases such as spine spondylosis, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal stenosis, spinal disc herniation, diabetes, sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoporosis.
Do go for an X-ray investigation to identify your problem. A magnetic resonance imaging test or blood test may be required too. The numbness can be life-threatening - for instance, the spinal nerve impacts many of our organs.
In TCM, numbness tends to stem from deficiencies in the liver, kidneys and spleen, insufficient or stagnant qi (energy) and blood, physical injuries and pathogenic factors such as wind, cold and dampness.
According to TCM principles, the liver governs the tendons while the kidneys control the bones.
When there is insufficient liver blood, the tendons will not be properly nourished. As such, the patient might experience trembling hands or feet, numbness of the limbs or even difficulty in flexing and extending the limbs.
When the kidneys are weak - possible causes are ageing, chronic diseases and an overly active sex life - the person will suffer from symptoms related to the skeletal system, such as aching bones.
And when the liver and kidneys lack yin (the element responsible for cooling organs), a variety of problems can result - for example, numbness in the shoulder, neck, fingers and joints.
Meanwhile, the spleen governs the muscles around the joints and converts the nutrients into qi and blood. Factors such as fatigue and an unbalanced diet with cold, spicy or oily food can weaken the spleen.
When this happens, the organ will convert the nutrients into phlegm and dampness. It loses the ability to produce sufficient qi and blood to nourish the spine and limbs.
This triggers chronic pain and numbness of the joints, feet and fingertips, coupled with a paler-than-usual complexion.
Herbs and remedies
With insufficient qi and blood, pathogenic factors such as wind, cold and dampness can easily invade the joints and trigger numbness of the fingers and the toes.
The person may also experience limited movement or even spasms of his joints, on top of an aversion to wind and cold.
Physical injuries, poor posture and degeneration of the cervical and lumbar vertebrae can affect the circulation of qi and blood. The qi stagnates and the blood enters a state of stasis in the meridians (channels through which qi travels).
This can give rise to numbness in the fingers and the toes, or a painful, prickling sensation in the neck, shoulder, lower back and the limbs that is coupled with numbness.
The person may also feel as if he has little strength in his limbs for a prolonged period of time.
Herbs and remedies
Chinese medicine, acupuncture, cupping (using fire and cups to create a vacuum on the skin to enhance qi and blood circulation), moxibustion (heat therapy) and TCM massage (tuina) can help to ease the problem by strengthening organs and dispelling pathogenic factors.
Chinese herbs, such as the processed rehmannia root, tree peony bark, common yam rhizome and Chinese taxillus herb, are used to boost the liver and the kidneys. This helps to reduce the numbness and improve one's muscle strength of the hands and the feet.
To promote qi and blood flow, try the milkvetch root, Chinese angelica, white peony root, fleeceflower root, Sichuan lovage rhizome and the suberect spatholobus stem.
Dispel the wind and cold that causes stiffness in the fingers and toes with the help of the incised notoptergium rhizome, doubleteeth pubescent angelica root, Manchurian wildginger and kudzuvine root.
Meanwhile, danshen root, sanchi, peach seed and safflower are helpful in enhancing blood circulation, to reduce both the numbness and pain.
Besides herbal remedies, you should also keep your body warm. Avoid direct exposure to air-conditioning and do not sleep on a cold cement or marble floor.
Try not to take cold drinks and raw, oily food too.
Instead, engage in exercises such as swimming, taiji and yoga. These activities can help to build up your muscles and balance the spine, while enhancing the circulation of blood and qi.
Go for foods that are high in protein and fibre, and which are easily digested, for better spleen health.
Regular stretching exercises involving the sole and the toes can help with the problem too. Alternatively, you can do a light massage of the feet using your fingers.
Soak your hands and legs in warm water (40 deg C) for half an hour every night - a move that can improve both your blood circulation and sleep.
MS LIM LAY BENG Traditional Chinese medicine practitioner at YS Healthcare TCM Clinic at The Adelphi
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