Most people have probably experienced a situation where you came close to injuring yourself, but stopped because you felt some pain that alerted you to stop doing what you were doing. Or maybe you touched a hot stove accidentally, and then yanked your hand away as soon as you felt that flash of burning pain. This is the essence of nerve pain – sensation signals sent to your brain to alert you that something potentially damaging is happening. Unfortunately, for some people this system malfunctions. Instead, a person may feel mild to severe pain, but there is no obvious reason. And, unlike when you take your hand off a hot stove to alleviate the discomfort, with this kind of nerve pain there is no immediate way to relieve it. So, let’s take a look at the science of nerve pain, what causes it, and what you can do about it.
What Does Nerve Pain Feel Like?
Nerve pain (or “neuropathic pain”) isn’t just a sore muscle that hurts when you move, although there isn’t necessarily an immediate fix for that either. However, with most invisible sensation, there is a cause, like a tough workout. This isn’t the case for nerve pain. Those who suffer from neuropathic pain report a shooting, stabbing, or burning sensation. Sometimes this pain is long-lasting, making the person feel cold or sensitive to touch or other stimuli. Certainly over time, pain without an obvious cause, no matter how severe, can be debilitating and psychologically difficult. People with nerve pain can also suffer from anxiety and depression.
Causes of Nerve Pain
The sensory nervous system is incredibly intricate, sensitive, and reliable. That’s why it usually takes actual damage from a disease or physical injury to cause the system to malfunction. Cancer, for example, can damage nerves either directly or indirectly. Sometimes cancerous tumors can press on nearby nerves, causing pain. Or, chemotherapy to treat cancer may cause nerve damage. In the United States, a big cause of nerve pain is diabetes, which is a chronic disease caused by an inability to control blood sugar levels. Excess glucose (sugar) in the blood can damage nerves over time. Other causes of nerve damage include HIV, shingles, and traumatic injuries that crush or sever sensory nerves entirely. However, these are by no means a complete list of causes, and if you have nerve pain, you should bring your concerns to your doctor.
Can You Treat Nerve Pain?
Because there are a staggering number of nerve pain causes, treatment can easily vary from patient to patient. Often, a doctor’s course of action is to treat the underlying condition that is causing the pain. For example, people with diabetes will need to have their glucose levels regulated correctly in order to get relief for their nerve pain. Those who have experienced physical damage to their nerves may have to undergo physical therapy or surgery. If you’re unsure about the cause of any kind of pain, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor. She will be likely to provide you with some good information and possible treatment.