Numbness - Loss of Feeling - Altered Sensations - Paraesthesia - Partial Paralysis

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Finding a good herbalist

Much of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that you need further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist or truly holistic practitioner to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

What do you call it?

This article is about a problem that goes by a number of different names and that people describe in very different ways. For example, a person with disturbed nerve sensation might describe what's going on as 'pins and needles' or a 'burning sensation' or a 'feeling of numbness or cold' or, simply, a loss of feeling.

Sometimes there is a clear cause for the symptoms, e.g. from a past surgery or injury, sometimes the altered feeling or loss of feeling comes completely out of the blue. Whatever you call it, the common feature of these disturbances is that whilst they may not exactly be what you would call 'pain' they still tend to be highly disturbing because the brain is getting a signal that something is not right.

Consequently, most people go through extensive neurological tests to rule out a serious pathology only to be eventually told there's nothing actually wrong with them. At this point they usually get prescribed anti-depressants, or drugs that sedate the nervous systems, however these approaches rarely seem to serve people well in the long term.

A better approach is to recognise that the brain, and the way we experience altered nerve sensations through it, is remarkably responsive to change, if we understand how to work with it.


Rewire your Brain

Whatever the disturbance is, so long as you still have some sensation going on, then there is every chance that your brain can 'rewire' to, at least, much better tolerate the situation, at best, regain normal sensation.

Even when there is a clear physical cause to the problem, e.g. from an injury, numerous experiments show that our brains are remarkably capable of adaptation and change, including rewiring a symptom of altered sensation either back to normal or at least to a point where it no longer agitates or disturbs

This subject is covered in depth in a book called 'The Brain that Changes Itself' by Norman Doidge MDD. If you, or the person you care for, is in any doubt about the ability of the brain to rewire itself, then carefully read this book and it will certainly change your point of view.

One of the lines Doidge repeatedly emphasises in his work is that 'neurons (nerve cells) that fire together wire together and neurons that fire apart wire apart'.

What follows are some practical and proven ways to help rewire the brain that has been receiving altered signals from the body.

Urtica dioica (Nettles)



If you have an altered or lost nerve sensation in any part of your body, then consider the following suggestion with an open mind, as strange as it will sound!

It has been known since ancient times that, if a person had lost normal feeling in a limb or other part of their body, that the use of stinging nettles could help to bring it back. The practice of brushing part of the body with the leaves of stinging nettles is known as Urtication. It is still widely used for the pain of arthritis but it can also help with chronically altered or loss of feeling or movement in a body part.

How you do it is to simply take a fresh leaf of Nettle in a hand that has been well-gloved, then gently make contact with it against your affected area or areas.

For many people, it will be sufficient to simply stroke the nettle leaf over the affected area several times. e.g. just two or three strokes to begin with. You should start at a low level of exposure and then build up the 'dose' by either simply brushing the skin one or more extra times and/or pressing the leaf a little harder against your skin.

Soon after contact with the Nettles there should be some strong sensations of prickling etc. Don't panic about this, it will soon pass and no harm will be done. So long as you are tolerating the treatment well, you can gradually make it stronger.

There are powerful chemicals in the tiny 'needles' on the Nettle leaves that stimulate nerve receptors under the skin and cause a cascade of physical reactions. As long as you don't overdo it, these physical sensations can help to rewire your brain in a very physical way i.e. by changing the signal.

So long as you use Urtication gently and patiently there is a good chance it will help but you have to give it time to work. A reasonable time frame to do a trial with this treatment is either a daily brush for a week, or a treatment every second day for two weeks. Nettles is not a hard herb to find or grow, for more information about it, read here

Urtica dioica (Nettles)


Hot & Cold Therapy

The principle behind hot & cold therapy is exactly the same with the Urtication however this time, instead of a chemical stimulation from the substances in the tiny needles of the Nettles, we are activating the nerve cells in the skin that sense both heat and cold. This method sends plenty of 'signal' to the brain from the area of the body affected. You must try for yourself to see if it helps and in that regard, it is recommended to take a 'stage 1' and then, perhaps, a 'stage 2' approach.


Stage 1: Water

Take two bowls, or two buckets if working on a large area, and fill one with water that is as hot as you can safely stand and make the second bowl or bucket icy-cold by using ice-cubes in the water.

Start with the hot water and immerse your affected part for several minutes. If it is not physically practical to do an immersion, then apply a hot compress with a cloth soaked in the hot water with a dry towel over the top.

The heat will dilate your blood vessels and make the nerves more sensitive for what comes next because, as soon as you feel your body part has become very warm, you then immerse into the cold water, or use a cold compress in the same way, and stay there until it feels very cold -- at which point you then go back to the hot bowl, bucket or compress and repeat the hot-cold process at least once.

You can go back and forth as many times as you like, but do it at least twice in total to be sure of sending plenty of 'signal'. Generally it is best to finish with the cold so your body has to rewarm itself, but this is not a fixed rule.

There may be a further benefit from this process, which is that altered or loss of feeling may be associated with some kind of tissue damage that has left some residual debris in the area. This debris can block good nerve conduction and it is well established that the simple process of first expanding and contracting the tissues with hot & cold treatments is effective at helping to flush debris from the spaces in between the cells, somewhat like an internal massage.


Stage 2: Herbs

If heating and cooling the affected part of your body with hot & cold water helps then consider taking this to the next level using herbal medicines.


The first herb to use is Cayenne. You can apply this in various ways and if you are able to look online for a supplier of Cayenne Plasters, this will simplify the process because then you just apply the plaster to the affected area and leave it on for a good few hours.

If plasters are not available or are not suitable for another reason (e.g. they are too small for the area affected) then consider obtaining and using a tincture of Cayenne instead.

You must be very careful when you use Cayenne tincture not to get any in your eyes, mouth or any other opening of your body. Wash hands very thoroughly with a scrubbing brush, soap and water after use.

The method of application is quite simple, put a few drops of the Cayenne on the skin and rub it in until it is absorbed. You will soon find the amount that works best if you do this a few times. When I have done this myself for my own patients I find that their skin tells me how much it can absorb. Some people soak it up like a sponge, but with others you just put 10 or 12 drops on their body and can tell that it's enough. Try and see and trust that it won't damage you in any way, even if it gets really hot!

What will happen after a short while of either a plaster or the tincture is that you will feel a tremendous amount of heat being generated by the Cayenne. Do not be alarmed if it becomes very intense at times; there is no way that the Cayenne is damaging your tissues.

I am sure you have gathered by now that the point of this is to get those signals firing to the brain in a different way. If you feel like this is helping you then I would suggest you do it no more frequently than alternate days. more about Cayenne here

Capsicum minimum (Cayenne)



The second herb to use is Peppermint -- either by itself if you feel the Cayenne is just not for you -- or as an alternate treatment on the days you don't do the Cayenne.

You need to get Peppermint Oil BP, the BP stands for British Pharmacopeia and this is a standardised preparation that should be available from pharmacies. Do not use regular Peppermint essential oil as it will almost certainly be too strong for your skin to put on straight. In exactly the same way that you 'paint and rub' on drops of Cayenne you apply some drops of the Peppermint Oil BP and rub in until your skin has absorbed enough, you can be generous.

Once again there should be some intense signals soon coming into your brain from the affected area, they will be more on the cold spectrum but will alternately feel weirdly warm at times. Read more about Peppermint here

Mentha piperita (Peppermint)


Going in to the problem

This last part can be hard for people to believe, hence the earlier recommendation to read a whole book on this subject to encourage an open mind to it!

Our great challenge here is that, once a person feels a certain sensation often enough, their brains become convinced that this is how they are always going to fee and it becomes very hard-wired.

The two physical strategies outlined above can do a lot to change the signals and so help to rewire a stuck pattern of sensation however, we need to approach this cognitively as well. That means you need to find a way to change the way you think about what is going on.

For most of us, the best way to learn is by doing, so instead of trying to write a lot about it, because this is such a counter-intuitive subject until a person 'gets it' for themselves, I am going to recommend you to listen and practice one or two of the exercises on a page in this website that have commentaries called relaxation for anxiety and relaxation for pain.

Both exercises follow the principle whereby you relieve pain or anxiety by relaxing into the sensation rather than trying to get away from it. It's hard to do, at least at first, but it works, and the exact same principle will apply if you 'go into' the experience of the altered or lost sensation, more here


St John's wort

No herb is right for everyone, but I have had some very positive experiences with a number of my own patients who have the kind of disturbed neurological function we are talking about here through the generous use of St John's wort, more here

Hypercium perforatum (St John's wort)


Constitutional Health Note

Finally, you might benefit from learning about your constitution to know what kind of foods, herbs, exercises etc. will work especially well for your health in general.

There is a brief introduction to the subject here and a more detailed section on working out which constitution you are here

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd