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

Our Pages

- Herbal Medicine
- The Clinic
- Richard Whelan

- Alphabetically

- By Group
- Alphabetical

- Clinic Hours
Clinic Location

- Ancient wisdom in the modern world


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?

I need to make it clear that what I am talking about here is a problem that people describe in different ways and that they rarely have a specific name for what is going on. For example a person with a disturbance to their nerve sensation might describe what is going on as a 'pins and needles' kind of feeling, or a 'burning sensation' or a feeling of 'cold' in the affected area or, simply, a loss of feeling.

I don't know how much my own patient population is a representative statistical sample for the wider world but if it is anywhere close then there are a surprisingly large number of people out there who have some degree of altered sensation, chronic numbness or loss of feeling somewhere in their bodies.

Sometimes there is a clear cause for the symptoms (e.g. from a past surgery or injury) but sometimes the altered feeling or loss of feeling comes completely out of the blue and the people I meet with this problem are often very anxious about what is going on and so have been through exhaustive neurological tests to rule out some of the more worrying pathologies only to be eventually told there's nothing actually wrong with them. At that point they often seem to get prescribed anti-depressants, or drugs that sedate the nervous system but I'm sorry to say that I rarely see this approach serving them well in the long term. They may initially feel 'less', of anything, and that may give some degree of relief for a while, but in the long term the benefits of the drugs seem to wear off and the person is left feeling just as poorly but now with a drug dependency on top of it all.

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 clear (sometimes constant) signal that something is not right. In my personal experience with actual patients these are in fact problems that do have solutions and I describe what I have found to help the most in detail below. The first and main thing to understand is that you have to be prepared to do the work to literally rewire your brain...


Rewire your Brain

Whatever that disturbed feeling is, so long as you still have some sensation going on, then you can legitimately consider that there is every chance that your brain can 'rewire' to regain normal sensation or at least to stop being so disturbed in whatever body part has been affected.

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

However this process does not happen automatically (in fact if instead we just keep doing the same thing we will not only get the same result we've been getting but we are highly likely to get an increasing experience of the unpleasant numbness etc. because the brain wires itself more and more strongly in whichever way we continually use it.

This whole subject is covered in depth in a marvellous book called 'The Brain that Changes Itself' by Norman Doidge MDD. Especially if you, or the person you care for with this problem, is in any doubt about the ability of their brain to rewire itself I highly recommend getting and carefully reading this book as it will certainly open the mind to the very real possibility of healing in this regard.

One of the lines he repeatedly emphasises in his work is 'neurons (nerve cells) that fire together wire together and neurons that fire apart wire apart'. Whatever is actually wrong in the affected area is telling the brain that something isn't right and we may have to literally rewire the brain to receive impulses differently.

There are several particular ways that I have seen to help do this. Not everyone will need to do all of these to get better and in fact it may be wiser to try one at a time to see how you respond but, and this is a really key point, if you are going to go into any of this with the expectation of an instant cure then don't start! It is certain progress, even if it is gradual, that we are looking for and in that sense you will have to very much take a try and see approach to all of this, and potentially be prepared to do more than one thing at a time, so long as it is clearly helping!



If you have altered or lost nerve sensation in a part of your body then I definitely recommend you consider the following suggestion with an open mind -- as crazy as it may at first 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 chronic loss of feeling or movement in a body part.

How you do it is you simply take a fresh leaf of Nettle in a hand that has been well-gloved (dish-washing gloves work perfectly well) and then gently rub it against your affected area(s). 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. I suggest you start at that level and then build up the 'dose' if you tolerate it well and feel you can take it a bit stronger. After contact with the Nettle there should, in a short time, be some strong sensations of prickling etc. Don't let yourself panic about this, no harm will be done so long as you start carefully and find your own safe limits with the process.

There are some powerful chemicals in the tiny 'needles' of the Nettles 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 start carefully you won't overdo the treatment to the point that you get any serious discomfort such as a 'nettle' rash. As you get used to it and especially once you start to feel some change in your symptoms you can certainly try to increase the 'dose'. Do this by either simply brushing the skin one or more extra times and/or pressing the leaf a little harder against your skin.

The only way to really know if Urtication may work for you is to try it and see but don't expect a miracle cure overnight whereby you do it once and everything suddenly returns to the way it was. 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. For example I suggest a daily brush for at least a week, or a treatment every second day for two weeks, to find out for yourself if this can really help.

You also might like to grow your own Nettle if this works for you; it is not at all a hard herb to find or grow. For more information about the rather remarkable though much maligned Nettles; read here.

Urtica dioica (Nettles)


Hot & Cold Therapy

The principle behind how hot & cold therapy works 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 using the nerve tissues in the skin that sense both heat and cold. By literally turning those nerves on and off you can send a tremendous amount of pure 'signal' to the brain from the area of your body affected by the numbness, altered or lost sensation etc.

Once again I suggest you have to simply try this for yourself to see if it helps and in that regard I recommend a stage 1 and a stage 2 approach. If stage 1 seems to be making a positive difference after at least 3 attempts (remember that rewiring is a process not an event) then you should certainly consider going on to stage 2 as, whilst it involves a bit more time and effort, it may significantly enhance the potency of the treatment.


Stage 1: Water

Simply get 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 to immerse part of your body in and the other just as cold as you can get (ice-cubes or refrigerated water are probably essential for this).

Start with the hot water and dunk in your affected part or apply a hot compress with a cloth soaked in the water and then placed over the affected area with a towel over the top of it if this is more appropriate to the area concerned. The heat will dilate your blood vessels and make your nerves more sensitive for what comes next because as soon as you feel your body part has become very warm you have to immerse it into the cold water, or now 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.

You can go back and forth as many times as you like, but do it at least twice to be sure of sending plenty of 'signal'. It's probably best to finish with the cold so your body has to rewarm itself, again encouraging a more healthy and natural flow of nerve signals and responses.

There may be a hidden benefit from doing this that I want to also mention. A loss of feeling can be associated with tissue damage that leaves 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 very 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 you might consider taking this to the next step using herbs.


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 then this may simplify the process because here you just apply the plaster to the affected area and leave it on for a good 8 hours or so.

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 may need to find a good herbalist to help you with that as mentioned at the beginning.

You have to 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 is very 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 20 drops on their body and you 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 to what they have been stuck with up until now. If you feel like this is helping you then I would suggest you do it no more frequently than alternate days and also to be prepared to take a break if you feel like you just aren't ready for another session just yet. You can read a lot 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. Again you may need to contact a herbalist to get the right stuff or it may be that your local Pharmacist may have the right form of this in stock.

You need to get Peppermint Oil BP (the BP stands for British Pharmacopeia -- it is a standardised preparation. Do not use 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 -- 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 may alternately feel weirdly warm at times. Read more here.

Mentha piperita (Peppermint)


Going in to the problem

I've alluded to the principal behind this last suggestion several times now -- it is that so long as you have some sensation in the part of your body that has been affected then you have every possibility to change the way you experience and process those feelings -- all the way from it stopping being an unpleasant experience to simply stopping noticing them at all.

This part can be really hard for people to believe (hence why I earlier recommended you read a whole book to help you change your mind!) because once a person feels a certain sensation often enough their brains become convinced that this is always how they will feel that part of their body; 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. This is not an easy subject to discuss as much of it is seems counter-intuitive until we kind of 'get it' for ourselves.

The best way to actually learn about this is to simply do it so what I am going to suggest you do instead of me trying to write a whole lot about it is to listen to one or two of the exercises on a page in this website that have a commentary on relaxation for anxiety and/or relaxation for pain. Both these exercises follow the principle whereby you relieve pain or anxiety by relaxing into the sensation rather than struggling to get away from it. I do know just how hard it is to actually do what I am suggesting, at least at first, but it does actually work! You can find that material here.


St John's wort

I really couldn't say whether this would be the right thing to recommend without meeting someone in person first but I have to share that I have had some very positive experiences with my own patients with the kind of disturbed neurological function that I am talking about here with the generous use of the potent nervine herb St John's wort - I have a detailed write-up on it 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 as well as what might potentially help you work through this great challenge in your life. As it happens the majority of the patients I have personally worked with who have this kind of nerve problem have been Bears (cool & damp constitutions) but in any case there is a brief introduction to this great 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