In 2002, the renowned English rock and blues guitarist, singer and songwriter Eric Clapton took part in ‘Concert for George’, a tribute to the late George Harrison, who wrote the song for the Beatles’ ‘The White Album’, released in 1968. The song features lead guitar by Clapton although he was never formally credited on the album.
That song may hold particular poignancy for Clapton as he has recently been diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, which has severely affected his ability to play the guitar, yet he managed to release his 23 album, ‘I Still Do’ earlier this year.
Clapton discussed the symptoms of the ailment, including numbness in his limbs, especially extremities. He said in an interview, ‘I’ve had quite a lot of pain over the last year. It started with lower back pain and turned into what they call peripheral neuropathy, which is where you feel like you have electric shocks going down your leg … [It’s] hard work to play the guitar and I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that it will not improve.’
Peripheral neuropathy develops when nerves in the body – such as the hands, feet and arms – are damaged. The symptoms depend on which nerves are affected. Peripheral neuropathy can be caused by a number of health issues such as diabetes, vitamin deficiency, medication (e.g., chemotherapy), traumatic injury, radiation therapy, immune system disease, Coeliac disease, viral infection or excessive alcohol consumption.
Clapton’s neuropathy was triggered by years of substance abuse, particularly long-term, heavy alcohol use. He is ‘dry’ now, but acknowledges the damage to his health in his later years.
In most cases, people who develop alcohol-related peripheral neuropathy have been active alcoholics for at least 10 years. Such neuropathy can damage motor nerves and sensory nerves. Symptoms can include burning, numbness, tingling and/or shooting/stabbing pain in the toes and/or fingertips, muscle cramps, muscle pain, muscle twitching, partial or complete loss of normal muscle control and other movement-related disorders. In severe forms, alcohol-related neuropathy can lead to incontinence, male impotence, constipation, diarrhoea, and/or abnormal intolerance to heat.
In the UK, it is estimated that almost 1 in 10 people aged 55+ are affected by some degree of peripheral neuropathy. Diabetes is the most common cause. Peripheral neuropathy can also be an early indicator of diabetes among those not previously diagnosed with it.
One of the early changes can be loss of sensation in your feet, often starting at the toes. Your chances of losing feeling in your feet increases with the number of years that you have diabetes and research suggests that up to one in three people with diabetes have some loss of sensation. The onset of neuropathy is gradual and often people who develop this complication are unaware of it at the start. Often it occurs between 7 and 10 years of having diabetes, although in some cases it can occur sooner where blood sugar levels have not been so well controlled.
Any change in sensation in the fingers or toes may be a symptom of peripheral neuropathy. Be sure to report any abnormal sensations to your GP.
Betafeet Podiatry can help identify whether you are showing signs of peripheral neuropathy or help to treat and manage your neuropathy as best as possible.
If you have been diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, it is important to inspect your feet regularly. Decreased sensation may develop eventually, so you might not notice an injury or infection. With the loss of protective sensation, someone who has peripheral neuropathy could step on a stone without noticing it. Regularly inspect your feet so you can note any injuries or infections and seek appropriate podiatry or wider medical attention as needed.