Syndromes, Injuries and Diseases
Neuropathic Pain
What is neuropathic pain?

Neuropathic pain is pain caused by injury to or deterioration of nerves.

How does it occur?

Neuropathic pain can occur as a result of:

nerve compression from tumors
irritation of the spinal nerves (such as by a herniated disk)
diseases such as diabetes, thyroid conditions, pernicious anemia, and shingles
deterioration of the nerves themselves due to aging or hereditary conditions
brain injury, such as a stroke.

What are the symptoms?

Neuropathic pain feels different from most other types of pain. It is often described as sharp, knifelike, stabbing, or burning. It tends to be constant.

How is it diagnosed?

Your health care provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history. He or she will examine you. Tests such as x-rays, scans, and nerve conduction tests may be done to try to identify the specific cause of the pain.

How is it treated?

Most of the usual nonprescription and prescription pain medications do not work well for neuropathic pain. Antidepressants and antiseizure medicines that interfere with pain signals to the brain work best (even though you may not necessarily be depressed or having seizures). These medicines take days or weeks to work, so you must take the medicine every day to reduce the pain. These medicines rarely take away the pain completely, but can help reduce it to a level you can tolerate.

Other treatments may include:

heat applied to the painful area
cold applied to the painful area
biofeedback (a method of controlling your body's responses with your mind)
electronic nerve stimulation devices
acupressure or acupuncture
surgery to sever the nerve causing the pain.

Injection of drugs into or around the nerve can deaden the nerve, providing pain relief that is sometimes temporary and sometimes permanent. However, this may result in numbness in the area where the pain used to be. Injection of drugs such as steroids to reduce inflammation may also be done.

If medication does not help your pain, your provider will most likely refer you to a pain specialist or pain clinic.