What is Nerve Pain?
All pain is experienced through nerves, so it’s not immediately apparent whether the cause of pain is from damage to bodily tissues like muscles and tendons. Nerve receptors adjacent to damaged tissue, called nociceptors, send pain signals to the brain which feel sharp, achy, dull or throbbing. Neuropathic pain feels more like burning, stabbing or shooting pain possibly with numbness or tingling, which means there is damage to the nerve directly.
The Nervous System in the Human Body
Did you know nerves can grow back and heal? We are born with a fixed number of nerve cells called neurons. While neurons cannot replicate like skin and liver cells can, they can regenerate. The human nervous system divides into the central and peripheral divisions. While both divisions are capable of growing and healing damaged nerves, this is a much more efficient and successful process in the peripheral nervous system.
How Neurons Work
Neurons is the basic unit of the brain and is specialized to transmit information to other nerve cells, muscles and gland cells. Neurons have a cell body and an extension called axons. Once the cell body dies, the neuron can not recover and dies. But if the axon is damaged, it can regenerate and heal itself over the course of time in a fairly slow process usually taking several months to two years.
Different Types of Nerves
The notion of nerve pain depends on the location of the nerves. There are three types of nerves in your body, the autonomic nerves, the motor nerves, and the sensory nerves. The autonomic nerves regulate involuntary activities like heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and temperature regulation. Motor nerves control movements by sending information to your muscles. And sensory nerves pass information from your skin and muscles to your brain which allow you to feel sensations and sometimes pain.
What does nerve pain feel like?
Motor nerve damage can cause weakness, muscle atrophy, twitching and possible paralysis. Sensory nerve damage will be painful with increased sensitivity, as well as numbness, tingling / prickling and burning sensations. The spinal cord nerve endings being pinched or damaged will effect these two types of nerves, sensory and motor. That’s why when you have a herniated disc, or suffer from degenerative disc disorder, you may have pain, as well as weakness in your legs.
You will have to speak to a doctor in order to fully diagnose what may be the cause of pain, and find out what kind of treatment options are available to you.
What causes nerve damage?
Nerve axons can be damaged in a number of ways, such as repetitive use of a joint or spinal vertebrae that may pinch the nerve, or a traumatic impact such a sports injury or car accident. Other ways nerves can be damaged include medical conditions like diabetes, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Autoimmune diseases can also cause nerve damage such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Sciatica Nerve Pain
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body, starting from your lower back and reaching all the way to the heel of your foot. When this nerve gets pinched or damaged, usually due to a herniated disc, bone spur, or spinal stenosis. Pain caused by sciatic nerve damage can be felt in your lower back and down your leg, usually only effecting one side of the body at a time. The level of pain experienced due to sciatica can be severe, though non-surgical pain management is a valid treatment in most cases until the pain subsides. However, if you have significant leg weakness or loss of control of the bowel or bladder then surgery might be considered.
This type of nerve damage can occur if someone has diabetes due to high blood sugar injuring nerves throughout your body. Most commonly though the nerves in your legs and feet are damaged, and causes pain and numbness in your legs & feet. Symptoms can range from mild to disabling. Problems with your digestive system, urinary tract, blood vessels and heart can also occur. The symptoms can be managed with consistent blood sugar management and healthy lifestyle. It’s important to reach out to a medical professional if you have a wound on your foot that is infected or won’t heal, you experience dizziness and fainting, or a burning, tingling, weakness or pain in your hands or feet.
Nerve Pain Relief
Treating nerve pain depends on what exactly is causing the nerve pain. For underlying conditions like diabetes then managing the disease is the top priority. Topical creams and ointments can relieve nerve pain, because they have ingredients that work as a local anesthetic. They numb the area, but are only effective on specific areas on your skin. What most people think of when they are seeking nerve pain relief are the pain medications to manage nerve pain.
Nerve Pain Medication
There are many over the counter painkillers such as acetaminophen, aspirin and ibuprofen. They can help manage mild pain levels, but if the nerve pain is more severe these over the counter pain medications won’t do the trick. Opioids can be used for particularly bad nerve pain, but the side effects and potential for addiction may not make these the best choice for long term nerve pain management. There are many injected medications that help control nerve pain such as epidural injections, facet joint injections, PRP therapy, and sacroiliac joint injections. These are typically longer lasting and targeting the nerve with medicine directly.
Can nerve damage be repaired?
If a nerve is damaged, but not cut, it can recover in 6-12 weeks. This is why pain management without surgical intervention works in many cases, because the goal is to reduce pain while the nerve regenerates itself. However, if there is a risk of the nerve damage progressing then surgery may be looked at as the best option. Nerve recovery can feel tingly with a shock sensation, but over time these sensations will go away as the nerve heals.