Sensory Dysfunction

Peripheral neuropathy (sensory dysfunction) occurs when the nerves outside your brain and spinal cord cause numbness, weakness and pain—typically in your hands and feet. In some cases, it can also affect other areas of your body.

There are more than 100 types of peripheral neuropathy, each with its own unique symptoms and treatment options. They fall into three categories:

  • Sensory nerves: connect to your skin and receive sensations like pain, touch and temperature
  • Motor nerves: connect to your muscles and control movement
  • Autonomic nerves: connect to your internal organs and control functions like heart rate, bladder, blood pressure and digestion

Symptoms, Diagnosis, Outlook & Treatment


Although the symptoms of sensory dysfunction may appear without warning, most tend to start gradually and increase over time. Pain is usually felt on both sides of your body and can occur constantly or in periodic intervals.

Symptoms include:

  • Numbness that spreads into your feet, hands, legs or arms
  • Burning, throbbing or sharp pain
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Muscle weakness
  • “Pins and needles” or tingling sensation
  • Heat intolerance
  • Bladder, bowel or digestive issues


The experts at Penn State Health start with a thorough physical exam and medical history by a neurologist (nervous system doctor). Other testing may include:

  • Autonomic testing – measures how nerves respond to stimulation
  • Bloodwork
  • Nerve biopsy – remove a small tissue sample to detect disease
  • Electromyography (EMG) – assesses muscle and motor nerve cell health
  • Nerve conduction velocity (NCV) – electoral test to assess nerve impulses and detect nerve injury
  • MRI – imaging test to look at organs
  • Pulmonary function test – to measure lung capacity


The outlook for sensory dysfunction varies according to its severity and underlying cause. In some cases, the condition improves with treatment and time. In others, the damage may be difficult or impossible to reverse, causing it to worsen as your illness progresses.


Treatment of sensory dysfunction focuses on addressing the underlying health issues causing your peripheral neuropathy and controlling your pain and other symptoms.

Treatments may include:

  • Medication
  • Occupational therapy
  • Orthopedic devices (braces, splints)
  • Physical therapy
  • Plasma exchange and intravenous immune globulin
  • Surgery
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)

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Why Choose Penn State Health for Care

The multidisciplinary general neurology team at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center offers cohesive, comprehensive inpatient and outpatient care to help you manage headache, weakness and sensory dysfunction. Our high level of expertise helps patients throughout the state achieve better health and quality of life.

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