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Why Pain from Nerve Damage May Force “Slow Hand” to Slow Down and Even Stop Playing

Eric Clapton, one of the world’s best-known blues and rock guitarists, has been playing his instrument professionally since 1962 and now, at age 71, he is being forced to seriously consider retirement. This has nothing to do with his popularity. In fact, he released a new album of songs entitled “I Still Do” in May 2016, to rave reviews.

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, Clapton is experiencing nerve damage which is making it extremely painful to play guitar. He was quoted in the article. “I’ve had quite a lot of pain over the last year,” Clapton told “Classic Rock” Magazine. “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. And I’ve had to figure out how to deal with some other things from getting old.”

Peripheral Neuropathy: A Clinical Explanation


Dr KutzAs the most recent addition to the Texas Back Institute team of spine experts, Dr. Scott Kutz, specializes in neurosurgery and, in addition to being an Eric Clapton fan, has several insights about this painful condition.

Peripheral neuropathy is a disorder affecting the peripheral nerves of the body, which is a part of the peripheral nervous system,” he said. “This can affect one nerve, in which case it is known as a mono-neuropathy, or it can affect multiple nerves where it is known as a poly-neuropathy.”

“This condition is fairly common and there are several different types and multiple causes of neuropathy. In the case of a mono-neuropathy, the most common type is carpal tunnel syndrome, where the medial nerve is compressed in the area of the wrist and causes pain, tingling, numbness, swelling and it can affect one’s strength.”

“Poly-neuropathy, where multiple nerves are affected, is most often caused by diabetes,” Dr. Kutz noted. “Alcohol or drug abuse can also cause poly-neuropathy. Typically, the longer nerve fibers are affected by this type of neuropathy.  In many cases of diabetes, the feet are most often affected by poly-neuropathy.”

It Can Occur Suddenly or Slowly

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes notes this condition can “often appear suddenly, progress rapidly and resolve slowly.” Dr. Kutz expands on this explanation.

“That’s certainly one of the manifestations of this condition,” he said. “More commonly, it comes on more insidiously or slowly. Either way, the condition is difficult to manage.”

“Patients who have this condition will develop a gradual reduction of their functions over time, unless the condition is treated.”

Did Claptons Substance Abuse Cause this Condition?


For all of his success and accolades as a musician, Eric Clapton has lived through the tragedy of losing a child and has a well-chronicled, freely admitted history of substance abuse. Could this abuse be the cause of this peripheral neuropathy?

“There are a number of different causes for this condition,” Dr. Kutz noted. “The most common cause of systemic neuropathy is diabetes. This affects multiple, small-fiber nerves throughout the body.”

“There can be nutritional and vitamin deficiencies or even vitamin toxicity which can lead to this condition.  There are also some hereditary disorders which can lead to peripheral neuropathy and chemotherapy and radiation treatments can sometimes cause this condition. In some cases substance abuse can bring on this condition.”

Treating This Condition

“The first line of treatment is to treat the underlying cause,” Dr. Kutz said. “For example, if we determine diabetes is the cause, we try and take strict control of blood sugar. In the case of alcohol or substance abuse, we try and get the patient to discontinue the use of these substances.”

“On the positive side, if the peripheral neuropathy is caught early enough, the condition is often reversible. However, if the symptoms are long-standing, the condition can be permanent and gradually continue to progress over time.”

“As soon as symptoms are noted, that should be a signal to seek medical attention,” he said. “The earlier we can make a diagnosis, the more likely we are to be effective in treating and potentially reversing it.”

If you would like to listen to the complete interview with Dr. Scott Kutz, click on the SpineTalk podcast below.

Peripheral neuropathy can affect all ages and both genders and if it is diagnosed early, it can be reversed. If you are concerned about tingling or other unusual sensations in your arms, legs, feet or hands, contact us for an appointment with one of our spine specialists.

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