Nerve pain, known as neuropathic pain in medical terms, is different from so-called ‘normal’ pain. It’s often resistant to the usual pain relievers but treatments are available. Read on for key information about nerve pain treatment.
“Normal” pain is called ‘nociceptive pain’. It’s important to know the difference between nociceptive and neuropathic pain to understand their respective treatments. The nociceptive form can come from bruises, bumps, fractures, sprains, inflammation (e.g. from arthritis or an infection), obstructions etc. Nociceptive pain tends to get better once the tissue damage gets better (except in the case of conditions such as arthritis). It tends to respond well to treatment with opoids which are known as ‘narcotic’ pain relievers such as morphine, coedine, hydrocodone, oxycodone.
Neuropathic or nerve pain is caused by an abnormal function of the nerves. Nerves communicate messages from one part of the body to another. When you experience nerve pain, there is an overload of messages. The distorted messages are read by the brain as pain. It might help to think of it as a lightbulb – when the electrical connection to a lightbulb is faulty – the bulb will flicker on and off.
Common examples of neuropathic pain include diabetic neuropathy where nerves have been damaged by diabetes. Or there is post-herpetic neuralgia that can occur after a bout of shingles. Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by entrapment neuropathy. There is also cancer pain, phantom limb pain and peripheral neuropathy (widespread nerve damage). Nerve pain can also be caused by chronic alcohol abuse, exposure to toxins (including chemotherapy) and many other medical conditions. Quite frequently, the underlying conditions that trigger the pain go undiagnosed.
Sometimes problems are caused by a combination of both nerve and ‘normal’ pain.
What does nerve pain feel like?
Nerve pain can take different forms but generally the symptoms include burning, stabbing or shooting pains, numbness and pins and needles. Suffers have described it as feeling like ‘walking on glass’ or ‘insects crawling under the skin’ or ‘water running all over the skin’. The pain might be set off by the lightest of touches to the skin. The pain may continue for months, maybe even years even if the originally damaged tissue seems to have fully healed. That’s because the pain signals themselves are malfunctioning.
What are the best nerve pain treatments?
Nerve pain does not respond as well to the usual pain-killing medicines such as opoids. It’s important to undergone checks with a medical professional particularly a pain management specialist as if it’s not diagnosed early as neuropathic pain, the condition might become more persistent. Depending on your condition, most pain management specialists recommend an aggressive early treatment.
Nerve pain relief can come in the form of special drugs from the anti-convulsant and anti-depressant families which reduce the stimulation and excitement of the nerves, giving them a chance to heal.
There are also nerve block injections – these are numbing medications injected around the nerves to interrupt the stream of painful signals. This allows the nervous system to ‘reset’ itself.
The mind can also help in the healing process – the mind and body have incredible powers of self-healing and pain management so be sure to take a holistic approach to treatment.