Neuropathic pain is a complex, chronic pain state that usually is accompanied by tissue injury. With neuropathic pain, the nerve fibers themselves may be damaged, dysfunctional, or injured. These damaged nerve fibers send incorrect signals to other pain centers. The impact of nerve fiber injury includes a change in nerve function both at the site of injury and areas around the injury.
One example of neuropathic pain is called phantom limb syndrome. This rare condition occurs when an arm or a leg has been removed because of illness or injury, but the brain still gets pain messages from the nerves that originally carried impulses from the missing limb. These nerves now misfire and cause pain.
You could be out for a run or drifting off to sleep when it happens: The muscles of your calf or foot suddenly become hard, tight, and extremely painful. You are having a muscle cramp.
Sometimes called charley horses -- particularly when they are in the calf muscles -- cramps are caused by muscle spasms, involuntary contractions of one or more muscles. In addition to the foot and calf muscles, other muscles prone to spasms include the front and back of the thigh, the hands, arms, abdomen, and muscles...
To diagnose neuropathic pain, a doctor will conduct an interview and physical exam. He or she may ask questions about how you would describe your pain, when the pain occurs, or whether anything specific triggers the pain. The doctor may also request both blood and nerve tests.
Neuropathic Pain Treatment
Some neuropathic pain studies suggest the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Aleve or Motrin, may ease pain. Some people may require a stronger painkiller, such as those containing morphine. Anticonvulsant and antidepressant drugs seem to work in some cases.
If another condition, such as diabetes, is involved, better management of that disorder may alleviate the pain. Effective management of the condition can also help prevent further nerve damage.
In cases that are difficult to treat, a pain specialist may use an invasive or implantable device to effectively manage the pain. Electrical stimulation of the nerves involved in neuropathic pain may significantly control the pain symptoms.
Other kinds of treatments can also help with neuropathic pain. Some of these include:
Working with a counselor
Unfortunately, neuropathic pain often responds poorly to standard pain treatments and occasionally may get worse instead of better over time. For some people, it can lead to serious disability. A multidisciplinary approach that combines therapies, however, can be a very effective way to provide relief from neuropathic pain.