The nerves on our bodies act as a signaling system that sends messages from various parts of the body to the brain and spinal cord. Any issues with these nerves lead to nerve pain and other unexplained pain in our bodies.
Nerve pain can make particular parts of your body feel discomfort, weak, and under pressure. This can make daily activities such as walking, standing, balancing, bathing, or picking up a spoon nearly impossible.
Understanding the ins and outs of nerve pain can help you find effective treatments as well as ways to reduce the condition.
What is Nerve Pain?
Nerve pain, also known as neuropathic pain or neuralgia, occurs when the nervous system is damaged or not functioning optimally. There are various types of nerve pain, including post-herpetic, trigeminal, occipital, and pudendal.
You can experience pain from any of the different levels of your nervous system – brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves.
The brain and spinal cord are the central nervous system, while peripheral nerves spread throughout the body to parts like arms, fingers, legs, toes, shoulders, etc.
Nerve damage does not just cause pain. Also, it may bring about numbness that prevents your body from feeling any pain. Some people with damaged nerves sometimes injure themselves without even realizing it.
What Causes Your Nerve Pain?
The most common causes of nerve pain can be divided into 4 classifications: disease, injury, infection, and limb loss.
Neuralgia can be a symptom or a complication due to various diseases and conditions such as autoimmune diseases (like lupus and vasculitis), diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cancers (like multiple myeloma), inherited disorders, stroke, among other conditions.
Diabetes is one of the leading causes of nerve pain – it accounts for approximately 30% of neuropathic cases. Chronic diabetes can even affect the way your nerves function.
Some cancer treatments can bring about neuralgia. For example, chemotherapy, as well as radiation, can affect the nervous system resulting in unusual pain signals.
Also, excessive alcohol intake for a long time can lead to several complications, including chronic nerve pain. In fact, regular alcohol use is linked to damage to nerves which has long-lasting pain effects.
Injury to muscles, tissues, and joints can also cause neuropathic pain. Likewise, arm, back, leg or hip injuries or issues can bring about lasting damage to nerves.
An injury can heal, but damage to the nervous system might not. That is why some people experience persistent pain for several years after an accident.
Injuries that affect your spine can cause nerve pain as well. For instance, herniated discs as well as spinal cord compression can damage nerve fibers around the spine.
Certain viral or bacterial infections, such as HIV, Lyme disease, shingles, syphilis, and many others, are linked to nerve pain.
Syphilis can lead to burning and stinging unexplained pain of the nerves. HIV patients may also experience this unexplained pain.
Shingles (caused by reactivation of chickenpox virus) can trigger neuralgia along a nerve for several weeks.
Phantom limb syndrome, a rare form of nerve pain, occurs after an arm or leg has been amputated. In spite of the limb loss, the brain thinks it is still getting signals from that removed body part.
However, what actually happens is that nerves near the amputation misfire and send faulty signals to the brain. Phantom pain can also be felt in ears, fingers, toes, penis, breasts, and other body parts.
Other causes of neuropathic pain include arthritis in the spine, vitamin B12 deficiency, fibromyalgia, facial nerve problems, sciatica, thyroid issues, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
How is Your Nerve Pain Treated?
The main goal of nerve pain treatment is to identify the underlying conditions or diseases responsible for the pain and treat them, if possible. Most doctors will aim to offer pain relief, help maintain your typical capabilities despite the pain together with improving your quality of life.
The most common and preferred treatments for nerve pain are:
- Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication
- Prescription medication
- Antidepressant drugs
- Nerve blocks
- Implantable devices
- Lifestyle treatments
- Natural treatments
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