What does neuropathic pain feel like, and how is it treated?

What does neuropathic pain feel like, and how is it treated?

How do you know if you have neuropathic pain versus a different type of pain? And what’s the best way to treat it if you do?

People with neuropathic pain often describe it as burning or shooting pain. They may also have numbness and tingling, and they may feel pain from a touch that wouldn’t normally be painful, such as going out in cold temperatures or rubbing against something. 

When people talk about neuropathic pain, they’re usually talking about pain associated with the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system includes all the nerves throughout your body except for the brain and spinal cord. This peripheral system sends messages to the brain and spinal cord, which make up the central nervous system.

Peripheral neuropathy occurs when part of the peripheral nervous system is somehow damaged. An estimated 20 million+ people in the United States are believed to have some form of peripheral neuropathy.

What causes neuropathic pain?

Although sometimes doctors can’t pin down a cause, injuries or any number of diseases can cause nerve damage. A fall, a car accident, a sports injury, or even a medical procedure can leave you with nerve damage.

A long list of other possible causes of nerve damage includes: 

  • Diabetes
  • Alcoholism
  • Shingles
  • Some chemotherapy drugs
  • Radiation therapy
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Stroke
  • Syphilis
  • Autoimmune diseases

How can you get relief from neuropathic pain?

First of all, if possible, your doctor will want to make sure any underlying condition that’s leading to the neuropathy, such as diabetes, is under control. At the same time, they’ll try to get you some relief.

Antidepressant drugs or anti-seizure drugs actually tend to work better than some traditional pain medications in patients with neuropathic pain. Those drugs may include the antidepressants Elavil, Pamelor, Effexor and Cymbalta, or generic versions of them, and the anti-seizure drugs Neurontin, Lyrica, Topamax, Tegretol, and Lamictal, or generic versions of them.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, are sometimes used for neuropathic pain as are opioid drugs, although they may not provide effective relief, and opioids carry a risk of addiction.

Other options may include lidocaine patches and capsaicin creams, and in some cases, nerve blocks, including steroid injections.

Many patients also benefit from nondrug treatments such as counseling, physical therapy, acupuncture, or meditation, either alone or in combination with medicine.

In addition, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS, a treatment that involves sending a gentle electrical current through electrodes attached to the skin, works for some patients.

If nothing else seems to be working, your medical team may recommend an implantable device that sends electrical impulses to the brain, spinal cord, or nerves. This can help by interfering with the pain signals your damaged nerves are sending to the brain.

If neuropathic pain is keeping you from doing the things you want, it’s time to schedule an appointment at Southwest Spine and Pain Center. With multiple locations across the state of Utah, the pain management specialists at Southwest Spine and Pain Center are dedicated to helping those who suffer from chronic pain live the life they want to. To schedule an appointment, visit our locations tab!

The advice and information contained in this article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to replace or counter a physician’s advice or judgment. Please always consult your physician before taking any advice learned here or in any other educational medical material.