The NERVE Of That Needle…

The human body has a pretty bad ass nervous system, and that system is responsible for more than most people think. Your nervous system is not only responsible for the sending and receiving of information between your body and your brain, it’s also responsible for generating how your body reacts to the information it receives; either from the brain or from outside stimuli. Your nerves are also what your children seem to think is appropriate to climb onto during a Sunday morning when they believe it’s appropriate to both wake up at 7 o’clock in the morning as opposed to letting their parents sleep in! But I digress…

One of the common side effects of Diabetes is Diabetic Neuropathy. This is the damage that can happen to your nervous system due to frequently high blood sugars and bad blood sugar control. This happens because as the tiny blood vessels supplying blood to your nerves are damaged, you begin to get that numb feeling in your extremities. This often starts with the feet and legs, although it can be present elsewhere. About half of people with Type-1 Diabetes will experience some level of neuropathy if they’ve had Diabetes for 10 years or more and lack proper control.

There are ways to deal with this, of course. Maintaining proper blood sugar levels to prevent the aforementioned blood vessel damage is key. Maintaining good blood circulation is also incredibly important. That’s why I often harp on and on about the importance of good fitness. It’s not all about being buff, which is a problem I don’t have, anyway. Being physically active not only helps in controlling blood sugars and processing your body’s fuel, it also goes a long way towards promoting proper blood circulation.

I often like to say that one’s body is an engine. Most modern engines have a computer controlling everything, which would be your brain. And since there needs to be some sort of interface between the engine and the computer, this is where your nervous system comes in. So what happens when you introduce something foreign into that interface? As a someone with Diabetes, I’ve been a living pincushion for 38 years. Wow, 38 years… Times sure flies when you’re dealing with Diabetic bullshit.

But seriously, I’ve had to deal with thousands upon thousands of injections during my life, including finger pricks, insulin injections, IV injections and in recent years, intravitreal injections for my eyes. So what happens if you stick one of those needles into a nerve? I can almost promise that if you’ve had Diabetes for any length of time, you’ve had this issue. Maybe you didn’t realize it at the time. Or maybe you’re dead inside and didn’t feel it. That’s not a joke; I mean that if you have neurological damage and the associated nerve is injured due to damaged blood vessels… Come on… I’m not ALWAYS sarcastic.

But being on insulin pump therapy in recent years has introduced a different problem I haven’t had to face during all those years. I now have plastic cannulas inserted into my body for days at a time. For the insulin pump aspect, it isn’t a big deal; the infusion set is changed every three days. But for the CGM, or Continuous Glucose Monitor, it can be more problematic as this sits in place for a full seven days (approximately) unless there’s an issue or a failure. So, what happens if one of those is injected into a nerve?

The first thing you’ll notice is pain. I mean, needles hurt by their very nature. But inserting one into a nerve will hurt more than usual. This can be difficult for someone with Diabetes to discern, since numbness in the extremities may make the increased pain difficult to notice. But you MAY notice continued or constant stinging at and around the injection site for as long as the cannula is in place. You may also notice a mild twitching of the muscle grouping around the nerve, which is an after effect of the nerve’s reaction.

The pain and damage is normally temporary and will go away either once the nerve heals itself or you’ve removed the object causing the issue. But since this is Diabetes and nothing is ever easy, it’s important to be aware that permanent damage CAN be caused. Of course, I’m referring to tiny, sensory nerves that are generally close to the surface of the skin. So they tend to heal up quickly, but if they’ve been cut or puncture in any serious way, it can take several weeks to heal. Increased exercise will release endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers and provide increased blood flow. That will also help the nerve to heal faster.

As with anything in life that gets on your nerves, you have to deal with it and make it stop. If you experience burning pain or twitching muscles that doesn’t seem to be subsiding, it may be worth it to remove the cannula or sensor and start over. If you pay for your supplies “out-of-pocket,” this may not seem like the optimal choice if a sensor is supposed to last 7 days. But it may be preferable over causing permanent damage or dealing with the pain for a week. ☯

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I am a practitioner of the martial arts and student of the Buddhist faith. I have been a Type 1 Diabetic since I was 4 years old and have been fighting the uphill battle it includes ever since. I enjoy fitness and health and looking for new ways to improve both, as well as examining the many questions of life. Although I have no formal medical training, I have amassed a wealth of knowledge regarding health, Diabetes, martial arts as well as Buddhism and philosophy. My goal is to share this information with the world, and perhaps provide some sarcastic humour along the way. Welcome!

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