Neuropathic pain, or nerve pain, is a form of chronic pain that occurs when there is damage to or malfunction of the nervous system. It is estimated that about 10 percent of the American population has neuropathic pain.
Neuropathic pain can be extremely debilitating, making everyday activities nearly impossible. In some cases, the pain is so severe that even simple movements become unbearably painful.
Causes of Neuropathic Pain
There are many different causes of neuropathic pain. It can be caused by injuries, diseases, and even medications. Some of the most common causes of neuropathic pain include:
- Chronic alcohol use
- Spinal cord injury
- Physical trauma
- Nerve compression
- Multiple sclerosis
What Does Neuropathic Pain Feel Like?
The sensation of neuropathic pain can vary greatly from person to person. It is often described using different terms such as burning, shooting, stabbing, tingling, or electric-shock-like. For some, the pain is a constant nagging presence in their lives, while for others, it may come and go intermittently. Nerve pain is often accompanied by numbness or hypersensitivity to touch and temperature changes.
Can Neuropathic Pain Spread To Other Bodyparts?
Neuropathic pain typically starts at the site of the nerve damage. However, over time, it can begin to spread out along nerve pathways, especially if left untreated. This is because the nervous system is an interconnected network of nerve fibers that sends signals throughout the body. When there is damage to one or more nerve fibers, those signals can become distorted, which can cause pain to spread to other areas of the body or appear to come from a different location.
Additionally, nerve damage alters the way the brain processes pain signals. This can lead to increased pain sensitivity, causing pain to radiate beyond the initial area of injury. Oversensitization to pain can also cause “false” pain signals to be triggered by non-painful stimuli like touch.
How Is Neuropathic Pain Treated?
The treatment for neuropathic pain will vary depending on the underlying cause of the condition. In general, treatment for neuropathic pain focuses on alleviating symptoms and managing the underlying condition causing nerve damage. Treatment options for managing symptoms include:
Medications: There are different types of medications that can help manage neuropathic pain. These include over-the-counter painkillers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, as well as prescription medications like opioids, gabapentin, and amitriptyline. Ketamine infusions have also emerged as an effective and rapid-acting treatment for chronic pain.
Physical therapy: A physical therapist can teach you exercises and stretches that can help ease nerve pain and promote. They may also utilize massage or electrical stimulation to help relieve symptoms.
Trigger point injections: Trigger point injections involve injecting a local anesthetic and steroid medication into the affected to numb the pain and provide a temporary reprieve.
Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to correct the underlying condition causing nerve damage. For example, if you have a herniated disc, surgery may be necessary to remove the disc and relieve pressure on the nerves.
Psychotherapy: Living with chronic pain can be emotionally and psychologically overwhelming. As such, talk therapy may be necessary to help manage the psychological aspects of living with ongoing pain.
Alternative treatments: Alternative treatments such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, and lifestyle modalities can also help alleviate neuropathic pain or complement other treatment regimens.
Neuropathic pain is a progressive condition that not only gets worse if left untreated but can also spread to other areas of the body. While there is no cure, there are treatments that can help manage the pain and improve quality of life.
The important thing is to work with your doctor or pain management team and develop a personalized treatment plan that works best for you. With proper care, it is possible to reduce the pain to manageable levels or even live a pain-free life.