Pain that seems to have no cause, that hits all of a sudden, and that feels like tingling or pins and needles in the extremities can be a real mystery. It can be so severe that it becomes a source of distraction for many people, forcing them to seek relief from any possible source. Before an individual can find genuine relief from pain, though, he or she must determine the type and source of the pain. Is it muscle pain? bone pain? soft tissue pain? phantom pain? or nerve pain? One of the most mysterious sources of pain that afflicts people today is neuropathic pain.
As of 2010, U.S. Pharmacists reports that “an estimated 4 million people suffer from neuropathic pain in the United States.” According to Cleveland Clinic, neuropathic pain is the result of incorrect pain signals being sent from damaged nerve fibers to pain receptors in the brain. Neuropathic pain is different from other types of pain and can be recognized by how it feels. Often it manifests itself in shooting, burning pain; a stabbing, tingling sensation; or the feeling of either numbness or pins and needles. Often, neuropathic pain is considered to be chronic pain because the symptoms last six months or more.
Once doctors determine that the pin you are experiencing is neuropathic pain, they must diagnose the underlying cause of the pain in order to properly treat the pain itself.
- External Causes. Neuropathic pain may be the unwanted side effects of alcoholism, an amputation, or chemotherapy. The feeling of pain or itching in an amputated limb is known as “phantom” pain. It is considered neuropathic pain, though, since pain receptors in the brain are receiving signals from a nonexistent limb. Chemotherapy can also create neuropathic pain as the chemicals used to fight cancer or disease attack the nervous system. Chemocare shares that the neuropathy symptoms from chemotherapy generally peak in a patient’s system three to five months after the last chemo treatment and then begin to slowly subside. Unfortunately, some sufferers may never see all of the neuropathy dissipate.
- Medical Causes. Certain diseases can also be the underlying cause of the neuropathy. WebMD lists diseases like diabetes, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, and multiple myeloma as creating neuropathic pain. Once the diseases are brought under control, the neuropathy associated with the disease often disappears.
- Spinal and Cerebral Causes. Dr. Kim J. Burchiel, a professor and head of the division of functional neurosurgery in the department of neurological surgery at Oregon Health and Science University, states that a brain injury, such as a stroke or tumor, may cause neuropathic pain. A spinal injury that compresses or injures the nerves within the spinal column may also be the source. Even a spinal infection that causes inflammation of the spinal nerve can be the root cause.
After determining the origin of the neuropathy, doctors must devise an appropriate treatment plan. Fortunately, several different types of treatments have proven to be effective for neuropathic pain.
- Medication. WebMD states that anticonvulsants, antidepressants, opioids, anti-inflammatories, and topical pain creams containing capsaicin or lidocaine have proven helpful in treating neuropathic pain. If the cause of the pain is an underlying medical condition, such as diabetes, fibromyalgia, or multiple sclerosis, taking the appropriate medication to control the condition should be the first course of action taken.
- Alternative therapies. Acupuncture, massage, and electrical stimulation have also proven effective in alleviating symptoms by providing stimulation to the nervous system. Dr. Burchiel says, “Neurostimulation of the peripheral nerves or spinal cord can be helpful, but usually does not take the pain completely away.”
- Diet and exercise. Walking, stretching, and exercises such as swimming or cycling are traditionally viewed as ways to alleviate muscle pain, but Loma Linda University Health states they also seem to help alleviate neuropathic pain. Some sufferers may find relief by switching their diet to a vegan or gluten-free diet.
Because neuropathic pain is individual in its causes, its treatment must also be individualized. Although the mysteries of neuropathic pain have by no means been solved, the specialists at Atlanta Brain and Spine Care can help you determine if neuropathic pain is the source of your problems. If you suspect you may be suffering from neuropathic pain, call their specialists today. Your pain doesn’t have to remain a mystery any longer.