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Neuropathic Pain Management

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.

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Causes of Neuropathic Pain

Neuropathic pain often seems to have no obvious cause; but, some common causes of neuropathic pain include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Amputation
  • Back, leg, and hip problems
  • Chemotherapy
  • Diabetes
  • Facial nerve problems
  • HIV infection or AIDS
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Shingles
  • Spine surgery

Symptoms of Neuropathic Pain

Neuropathic pain symptoms may include:

  • Shooting and burning pain
  • Tingling and numbness

 

Diagnosing Neuropathic Pain

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:

  • Physical therapy
  • Working with a counselor
  • Relaxation therapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Acupuncture

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.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on August 01, 2013
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