Berg Balance Testing

Part of every exam for neuropathy, is asking the question, “so… how are your balance issues? How is your walking gait?” Most patients will indicate that they have, at least some, balance issues. Even more, indicate that they cannot get up out of a chair without arms, at least, without some assistance. (This, is one reason, we don’t have arms on the chairs in our waiting room… they become part of the test!) But, if the patient indicates they “fall over or down a lot, stagger or have difficulty getting up and down,” we will give them what is known as a Berg Balance Test.

Developed by Katherine Berg (of whom it is named) and others, the test tests the static and dynamic balance abilities, of the patient. Scoring will indicate how ‘likely’ the patient is to end up in a wheelchair, or if they need to walk with assistance or can walk without much risk of falling. (Research shows, that if a patient – especially, an elderly one – falls and can get back up on their own within 15 minutes or less, they are more likely to be able to continue to live on their own. The longer it takes for the patient to get up, or if they need assistance, the more likely they will end up in assisted living or convalescent care).

The patient, depending upon their age, is scored on their ability to:

  1. Sitting to standing
  2. Standing unsupported
  3. Sitting unsupported
  4. Standing to sitting (without using arms on a chair or pushing up with hands on knees)
  5. Transfers
  6. Standing with eyes closed
  7. Standing with feet together
  8. Reaching forward with outstretched arm
  9. Retrieving object from floor
  10. Turning to look behind
  11. Turning 360 degrees
  12. Placing alternate foot on stool
  13. Standing with one foot in front
  14. Standing on one foot

Each task must be completed within a certain amount of time; and, is scored accordingly. These scores helps the neuropathist judge, not only what the ‘risk of falling’ is for the patient, but the extent of their neuropathy as well; in other words, the lower the score, the more likely to fall; and, most likely, the more severe the neuropathy.

Taking these scores and combining them with Toronto Clinical Scoring results, as well as examination of other parts of the body and information from Intake, all help determine the type of neuropathy the patient has; and ‘WHAT‘ issues need to be addressed first and foremost! For example, if a patient scores really well on the Berg test, we are not as concerned with treating muscle atrophy as we would someone with a low score. In the same sense, if Intake and examination indicate possible diabetic neuropathy, but the patient has stated he “trips over his own feet and falls a lot,” we might wish to look at drop foot or even send the patient to be checked for MS; if the muscles have not noticeably atrophied.

In other words, if we see a neuropathy with certain symptoms which are not common, we may refer out to neurologists to ‘look’ for other reasons besides, simple neuropathy for the symptoms.

 

Next Blog:  Patient Compliance.

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The New Neuropathy Patient

OK, you have seen your doctor or neurologist and he/she says “you have peripheral neuropathy!” Most likely, he has prescribed some sort of medication such as Gabapentin (Neurontin), Cymbalta (Duloxetine) or Lyrica. There are other drugs, but these are the primary ones to treat peripheral neuropathy – or ‘nerve pain,’ that is. Gabapentin, or its generic equivalent, Neurontin are anti-convulsive agents, and Lyrica, and Cymbalta are anti-depressants. Like other common neuropathy drugs, like Topamax, they can be used for many other issues besides what they were designed for. Unfortunately, these agents, like most drugs, have certain negative side effects; the thing neuropathists are concerned with is the fact that they ALL can cause neuropathy symptoms.

What was that? Was that a misprint? Neuropathy meds can CAUSE neuropathy? Absolutely! It doesn’t seem logical that one takes an agent which causes neuropathy to treat ones neuropathy, does it? Let’s step back and look at the big picture again; are these agents useful for neuropathy pain? Absolutely! I have taken them myself before I was diagnosed as having neuropathy – my doctor thought my issue was my former back injury. (In my case, however, I gave up the Gabapentin after only three days as I was unable to drive, work was difficult, as was my ability to even think while taking it. And, the Lyrica CAUSED depression in me.) But, even though I was a working neuropathist, I thought I should at least try what my competition was offering for neuropathy. (Frankly, my nerve pain in my feet was so severe that if someone had suggested “shoving beans up my nose” would have helped… I would have found myself with a nose full of beans!) It wasn’t until I had a visit from a patient in my office, that I made the decision to stop my meds – which, I’ll talk about in a moment.

I found that whereas my own treatments helped, the meds simply did not; at least, not the way I wanted them to. They caused many side effects with me that I didn’t like. Weight gain, depression, sleep issues, anxiety and stress to say the least. Did they help with the pain in my feet? They certainly did – but, I found there was nothing in the drugs which directed them to ONLY go to my feet. They went all through my body; aiding with pain in my back and elbow, but NUMBING my brain where I couldn’t think or work well. I had trouble making decisions or holding conversations, and certainly, my reflexes were adversely effected. When I drove, I was all over the road! In addition, my feet went from hurting, to having major burning and numbness. Before the meds, I had only a little numbness in my toes, but now my feet were totally numb.

Of course, my neurologist told me; “Oh, you can’t have pain and numbness at the same time.” But, as many of my own patients had told me, I certainly did have both pain and numbness – not to mention burning and swelling. In addition, I was informed by the neurologist, “You are only going to get worse. You will soon be in a wheelchair.”

As it happened, a long time patient came in to see me about this time, and was surprised to see me walking with a cane. He had just been given a prescription for Gabapentin for his neuropathy. “What do you think of this,” he asked me? “Now Ed,” I responded, “Gabapentin is great for nerve pain, but you’re only symptom is numbness! Why would you want to take something that causes numbness to treat your numbness?” I had to look at myself for a moment. I could ask myself this same question! Taking my own advice as a neuropathist, I discontinued my meds and pursued an upgraded plan for myself. (You see, even we neuropathists want to listen to our doctors – but we have to make an educated judgment as to pursue the recommended treatment or not!)

The first thing I did, was to have someone in my office perform a test on me – what I had only performed on diabetics up until that time. A Toronto Clinical Scoring Test. I knew that a new biopsy, as suggested by my neurologist, would be inconclusive; as we have TRILLIONS of nerves in our feet and legs – and just happening upon ONE nerve which told the whole store would be a trillion times more difficult than just picking an ‘Ace of Spades’ out of a deck of cards. I hadn’t had neuropathy very long, so there wasn’t much damage to my feet and legs. A nerve conduction test was next ordered. Again, how conclusive would this test be, as my feet were still new to the damage? Plus, so many times, I had seen ‘so-called’ dead nerves begin to respond after as little as two minutes of neuromuscular stimulation. Not surprisingly, the test was inconclusive; as was, the nerve biopsy which I was talked into and soon followed. The Toronto Test showed that my nerves were quite good in both legs and feet. I had my technician check my hands. Same thing. No sign of neuropathy in hands or arms. My symptoms appeared to be totally of a ‘long nerve’ issue. So, being a long nerve issue, I knew that this issue had to come about because of hypoxia – in other words, a ‘lack of oxygen’ to the synoptic junctions of the long nerves.

My schooling reminded me, that whereas I was now diabetic, I did have some damage to my lower back; so I couldn’t rule out my back as being at least partly at fault for my neuropathy and lack of oxygen to the synoptic junctions. But, be that as it may, I would proceed as if I was just a diabetic with neuropathy; then, after keeping strict records, analyze and change modalities as necessary.

I stepped up therapy on myself using a neuromuscular device which put out a low amount of Hertz – one, which was approximately the same as the frequency that my own body had… 7.83 Hertz. Along with daily treatments, I started keeping a closer eye on my blood sugar; not only taking my readings on a regular basis, but now supplementing my diet with cinnamon with chromium. Two to three thousand milligrams seemed to be the correct dosage for me (everyone needs to check with their doctor or nutritionist before starting any vitamin or supplement program, which I will go into more detail in later Blogs). After a few weeks, my feet started getting better; and, I was able to go for a longer period of time between treatments. I reached a plateau, however. The same plateau I had reached with several patients. We would reach a point where the feet could ‘hold their own,’ but not continue to get any better. Through additional research and study, I found that if I added a new modality of whole body or localized vibration, my patients and myself could bypass that plateau and proceed to further recovery.

Our office motto has always been to REDUCE, MANAGE and MAINTAIN symptoms, and now we were doing better with more options. I now incorporated another modality which my patients had found so helpful – especially, when it came to ‘burning’ of the feet and toes; vitamins and supplements. I have always known that my diabetic patients were short on vitamin D, but apparently most of my other patients were as well. In addition, we found that most of our patients were deficient in the B vitamins; particularly, B1 and B6. As with my patients, my nerves became more conductive with the addition of a B complex, and symptoms continued to improve – especially, when an omega 3 was added. I then added ALA (alpha lipoic acid, as it is known). When mixed with the vitamin B1, my burning symptoms totally went away.

Cut to several years later, and my feet seldom bother me anymore. YES, I still have neuropathy; and I still, occasionally, give myself a neuromuscular treatment. In addition, I still take daily vitamins and supplements and my daily diabetic medicine to keep my blood sugar as normal as possible. If I could somehow find a cure for my diabetes, I’m sure my neuropathy would clear up as well; but until that time, I have to be willing to accept the ability to REDUCE, MANAGE and MAINTAIN my symptoms. Treatment is generally only once every two or three months.

Next Blog: Intake