Nerve pain, also known as neuropathy, effects more than 20 million people in the United states. This number may be even higher because many people may not even know they have it or it is misdiagnosed because of the complexity of the symptoms.
Your nervous system is a vast communication network that sends sensory information between the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (limbs).
Nerve pain can be anywhere from mild to disabling and occasionally life-threatening. Symptoms often manifest in the lower extremities in the legs and feet. These can include:
- pin-and-needles sensation
- burning or freezing pain
- reduced sensation of touch or pain
- slow reflexes
- loss of coordination or balance
What causes nerve pain?
Some pain, like the pain from a broken arm, serves a purpose. You wouldn’t want to lift a heavy box with a broken arm because it might further injure the body. The extreme pain when attempting to lift the box is the body’s way of telling us to rest the broken arm. It is pain with a purpose. Nerve pain, however, serves no purpose.
Altered nerve sensation and pain stems from damage in the nervous system. This can occur in a few different ways:
Loss of signals– Injury, disease, or trauma destroy nerve pathways within the body. Like a damaged electric line can interfere with the conduction of electricity, damaged nerves can interfere with “signaling” in the body. Causing numbness and loss of feeling in affected areas.
Inappropriate signaling– Damaged nerves can sometimes send extra signals when there should be no signals, causing pain or discomfort.
Distortion of signaling– This refers to errors in the way sensory information is sent to the brain. Regular stimuli can be perceived as painful stimuli in this situation.
What are the types of nerve pain?
The two main types of neuropathy are peripheral and central.
- Peripheral neuropathy is by far the most common type. It is typically caused by trauma or disease to one or more peripheral nerves. Common causes of peripheral nephropathy are diabetic neuropathy and trauma or nerve entrapment. The body can often sustain trauma and while the skin and bones typically heal overtime, the nerves sometimes do not and can continue sending pain signals to the brain.
- Central neuropathy originates from a tissue damage or dysfunction in the brain or spinal cord (Central Nervous System, or CNS). Examples of central neuropathy include phantom pain and post-stroke pain.
How can I manage my nerve pain?
The first step to managing your nerve pain is talking to your doctor. There are a wide variety of over-the-counter and prescription medications available.