What Is Nerve Pain? Everything You Need to Know

    What Is Nerve Pain? Everything You Need to Know

    Pain, an unpleasant feeling that can be described in various ways, is a common symptom for many health conditions. In cases of injury, trauma, or infection, it’s easy to identify the cause of pain. However, there are times when pain is difficult to explain: it may feel different from the usual types of pain, and might persist for months with no obvious cause.

    This kind of pain may be neuropathic in nature.

    What is Neuropathic Pain?

    What is neuropathic pain, or nerve pain? To have a clear picture of what neuropathic or nerve pain is, it’s important to understand the following terms:

    Nociceptors. These are nerve cell endings that detect potential or actual damage to a tissue. Once activated, they send signals to the brain, initiating the sensation of pain2.

    Somatosensory System. This is the part of the sensory nervous system that’s concerned with the conscious perception of sensations. These include touch, pressure, pain, temperature, position, movement, and vibration which arise from the muscles, joints, skin, and linings of blood vessels and organs3.

    The pain arising from the activation of nociceptors due to potential or actual damage to a body tissue is called nociceptive pain1. It is the nervous system’s way of telling you there’s something wrong with a part of your body.

    Neuropathic or nerve pain, on the other hand, occurs when there is a lesion or disease of the somatosensory nervous system1. In other words, you experience pain because there is an issue with the nerves that carry sensation to the brain.

    Note that pain can sometimes have both neuropathic and nociceptive components. This is called mixed pain.

    Types of Nerve Pain

    Now that we know the answer to the question of ‘what is neuropathic pain’, we can look more deeply at the types of nerve pain.

    Nerve pain has two types: central and peripheral1.

    Central nerve pain occurs when there is a lesion or disease in the central somatosensory nervous system, in the brain or spinal cord. Examples include central post-stroke pain and pain due to a spinal cord injury.

    Peripheral nerve pain occurs when there is a lesion or disease in the peripheral somatosensory nervous system. Examples include pain from diabetic neuropathy and postherpetic neuralgia, a common complication of shingles.

    Common Symptoms of Nerve Pain

    Nociceptive pains may include the sharp pain from a cut, the dull ache due to arthritis, and the tenderness of a bruise.

    But, what does it feel like to have nerve pain?

    Like mentioned earlier, nerve pain feels different from the ordinary types of pain. The pain may feel like4:

    • Pins and needles
    • Tingling
    • Burning or “on fire”
    • Shooting
    • Stabbing
    • Freezing
    • Electric shocks

    Additionally, nerve pain is often worse at night, and is chronic, which means it may persist for months or more with no apparent cause4.

    Finally, neuropathic pain may cause painful areas to be abnormally sensitive4.

    For example, touches that normally don’t hurt, such as stroking the skin with cotton, may induce a sharp, burning superficial pain. Likewise, touches that normally only trigger slight or minimal pain can become intensely painful5,6.

    Nerve Pain is Prevalent Across Various Health Conditions

    Nerve pain can be present in a wide range of diseases, including:

    • Stroke
    • Spinal cord injury
    • Multiple sclerosis
    • Cancer
    • Diabetes
    • HIV
    • Chronic low back pain
    • Postherpetic neuralgia

    Treatment Requires Professional Medical Advice

    If you suspect that you have nerve pain, it is crucial to get in touch with a doctor. With their guidance, you can have more information about your condition and receive the appropriate medication.

    Please avoid managing your symptoms. Seek professional advice for your condition. While there are marketed vitamins specific for nerve pain, it is recommended to always consult your doctor for the appropriate treatment. Taking vitamins in the hopes of feeling better might only delay your opportunity to receive the correct medicines.

    Key Takeaways

    What is neuropathic pain? Neuropathic or nerve pain occurs due to a lesion or disease of the somatosensory nervous system, the nerves that carry sensations to the brain. This pain feels different from the usual types of pain and is prevalent in a wide range of health conditions.

    If you suspect that you are suffering from nerve pain, the best course of action is to seek medical advice from a doctor.

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    Sources

    1 International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP). IASP Terminology. Available at: https://www.iasp-pain.org/Education/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=1698

    2 Nociceptors – Neuroscience – NCBI bookshelf. (n.d.). National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK10965/

    3 Gleveckas-Martens N. (12 July 2013). Somatosensory System Anatomy. Medscape. Available at: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1948621-overview.

    4 Freynhagen R, et al. Diagnosis and Management of Neuropathic Pain. BMJ. 2009;339:b3002

    5 Baron R. Neuropathic pain: diagnosis, pathophysiological mechanisms, and treatment. Lancet Neurol 2010; 9: 807–19

    6 Jensen TS, Baron R. Pain 2003; 102(1-2):1-8

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    Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel Updated Sep 22Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel