Stocking glove neuropathy refers to symptoms of peripheral neuropathy that cause numbness, weakness, or sensory changes in the hands and feet. It has a number of potential causes, including diabetes.

Peripheral neuropathy is nerve damage to the peripheral nerves. These nerves send signals throughout the body and to the brain and spinal cord, also known as the central nervous system.

Some types of peripheral neuropathy start in the hands and feet. Doctors call this stocking and glove distribution, as people may feel as though they are wearing stockings and gloves when they are not.

This article explains what stocking glove neuropathy is, its symptoms, causes, and treatment options. It also lists some potential prevention methods.

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Stocking and glove distribution refers to a specific symptom people may experience with peripheral neuropathy.

Peripheral neuropathy occurs due to damage to the motor, sensory, or autonomic nerves. Damage to the sensory nerves affects how people feel certain sensations, including touch and vibrations.

Damage to the sensory nerves can affect the hands and feet in particular. People may feel as though they are wearing gloves and stockings when they are not, which is the reason for the term stocking and glove distribution.

Sensory nerve damage can cause a loss of reflexes and coordination. People may find it difficult to walk, fasten buttons, or keep their balance with their eyes shut.

Stocking and glove neuropathy may begin as symptoms in the hands and feet and may gradually spread toward the center of the body.

Symptoms of stocking glove neuropathy may include symptoms of nerve damage in the hands and feet, such as:

Peripheral neuropathy may have a negative effect on quality of life and may negatively affect a person’s emotional or mental well-being.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke notes that symptoms may develop over time, from days to weeks or even years. People may experience mild or severe symptoms, depending on the type and extent of nerve damage.

Diabetes can cause nerve damage in the hands and feet. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy typically starts in both feet and can also affect the hands, arms, and legs.

In the United States, diabetes is the main cause of neuropathy affecting multiple nerves in the peripheral nervous system. Around 60–70% of people with diabetes have some form of nerve damage.

High blood sugar levels and high fat levels in the blood can cause nerve damage. They can also cause damage to blood vessels that supply nerves with the oxygen and nutrients they need to function correctly.

Other causes of peripheral neuropathy that may affect the hands and feet include:

Treatment for stocking glove neuropathy may depend on the underlying cause and extent of nerve damage. Treatment may include:

  • managing any underlying conditions, such as diabetes
  • immunosuppressive drugs for any autoimmune causes, such as prednisone, cyclosporine, or azathioprine
  • managing blood sugar and cholesterol levels
  • plasmapheresis, a procedure that cleanses the blood of immune system cells and antibodies in cases of inflammatory or autoimmune causes
  • lidocaine patches or topical capsaicin to manage areas of pain
  • pain relief medication
  • psychotherapy or behavioral therapies to help people manage chronic pain or the mental health effects of neuropathy

A person may also wish to talk with their doctor about the following:

  • eating a balanced diet
  • getting regular exercise
  • reaching or maintaining a moderate weight
  • correcting any vitamin or nutritional imbalances through diet or supplements
  • avoiding or quitting smoking, if applicable
  • using orthotic devices and braces to help support movement and reduce pain

Under the guidance of a healthcare professional, people may wish to try alternative therapies to help manage pain, such as massage, acupuncture, or herbal medications.

A doctor may check for nerve damage in the hands and feet with a foot exam, nerve conduction studies, and electromyography (EMG).

A foot exam may include:

  • examining the skin on the foot
  • examining the muscles and bones of the foot
  • examining the blood flow in the foot
  • using a monofilament to touch the foot and check for any numbness
  • touching a tuning fork to the foot to test whether a person can sense movement

For an EMG test, a healthcare professional inserts needles into certain muscles to measure electrical activity and responsiveness. This can help doctors determine how well the nerves and muscles are functioning together.

A doctor may also order blood tests to check for underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, or autoimmune conditions.

Maintaining a blood sugar level recommended by a doctor may help prevent peripheral neuropathy and nerve damage in the hands and feet, as well as help prevent it from worsening.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke notes that the following can help prevent the development of peripheral neuropathy:

  • reducing the chance of injury, if possible
  • avoiding unnecessary medical procedures
  • taking steps to prevent health conditions that cause peripheral neuropathy, such as diabetes

Tips for helping prevent diabetic neuropathy include:

  • staying physically active
  • managing diabetes with a prescribed meal plan and taking any medications exactly as a doctor prescribes
  • managing cholesterol levels
  • avoiding or quitting smoking, if applicable
  • limiting or avoiding alcohol, if applicable

In some cases, stocking glove neuropathy may ease if a person works with a doctor to treat the underlying cause.

Nerve cells in the peripheral nervous system can keep growing, so they may recover and regenerate. Over time, treatment may help the nerves recover and regain functionality if the nerve cells are still alive.

People may be able to help prevent stocking glove neuropathy from worsening by managing any underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes. Managing blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight is also important in helping prevent nerve damage from worsening.

Without treatment or management, nerve damage in the feet may lead to complications. For example, if people lose sensation, it could lead to falls, injuries, and infection.

Stocking glove neuropathy is nerve damage that affects the feet and hands. People may feel as though they are wearing stockings or gloves when they are not. They may also experience numbness, weakness, or pain in the hands and feet.

Diabetes is a common cause of stocking glove neuropathy. Other causes may include autoimmune conditions or vitamin deficiencies.

Treatment may include managing any underlying conditions, correcting any nutritional deficiencies, and making certain lifestyle changes. Treating the underlying cause may help resolve stocking glove neuropathy and prevent nerve damage from worsening.