Whatever the cause, nerve pain can be a serious and debilitating condition. People who have it often need help from a doctor and prescription treatments.
There are also some nonprescription treatments for neuropathic pain that may help relieve your symptoms. You might use some of these approaches along with your prescribed treatment. If your nerve pain is mild, they may be enough on their own to manage your nerve pain. Here's a rundown of your options.
Pain is a normal part of life: a skinned knee, a tension headache, a bone fracture. But sometimes pain becomes chronic -- a problem to explore with your doctor. WebMD asked Eduardo Fraifeld, MD, president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, to help readers understand acute vs. chronic pain.
Topical painkillers. Many over-the-counter creams and ointments are sold to relieve nerve pain. They include ingredients that work as a local anesthetic, numbing the pain in the area where you apply them. Some contain capsaicin, a painkiller derived from chili peppers. Others use different natural ingredients, like botanical oils. One advantage of topical treatments is that you can apply them precisely where you need relief.
Painkilling medicines. Some people with neuropathic pain turn to familiar over-the-counter painkillers like acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen. While these drugs might help with mild or occasional pain, they're often not strong enough for serious nerve pain. There's also a risk that someone with chronic pain might begin to rely on these medicines too much. So, always make sure to follow the directions on the bottle. Most painkillers should never be taken for more than 10 days. If you are still in pain and want to take them for longer than that, you need to talk with your doctor -- it may be a sign that you need a different treatment.
Supplements and vitamins. In some cases, nerve pain can be worsened -- or even caused -- by a deficiency of vitamin B12. If your doctor decides you need it, he or she might recommend injections of vitamin B12 or supplements.
Other supplements are sometimes used as treatments for nerve pain. There's some preliminary evidence that a few of them -- like acetyl-L-carnitine, alpha-lipoic acid, and gamma linolenic acid -- might help with nerve pain caused by diabetes. However, the evidence isn't clear; more research needs to be done. Always check with a doctor before you start taking a supplement regularly.
Other Nonprescription Treatments for Nerve Pain
Your nonprescription options include more than over-the-counter medicines. Here are some other treatments that you could try for your nerve pain.
Acupuncture. This traditional Chinese approach has proven helpful for many kinds of pain. Researchers speculate that acupuncture might release chemicals that numb pain, or that that it blocks the pain signals sent from the nerves. In studies of acupuncture on nerve pain specifically, results have been mixed. But given that it has few side effects, you could try it to see whether it works for you.
Physical therapy. Nerve damage can lead to muscle weakness and wasting. Working with a physical therapist can help reverse that -- and might help reduce pain in the process.
Massage. While the evidence that massage helps with chronic pain isn't clear, it has few risks. Some people find that it can be especially helpful with painful muscle spasms.
Assistive devices. The nerve damage that causes pain can also result in muscle weakness. You might find that using assistive devices -- like canes or splints -- can make it easier to move around and reduce pain. Depending on your case, ergonomically designed chairs or desks could also bring relief.
Biofeedback. This technique teaches you how to control bodily functions that are normally involuntary -- like heart rate and blood pressure. With practice, you can learn how to relax your muscles and reduce tension, which may help relieve pain.
Hypnosis. There's some evidence that hypnosis can help with various types of chronic pain.
Relaxation. Look into stress management techniques. Or try other approaches -- like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing -- that will help you relax. Not only will these approaches relieve some of the stress caused by life with chronic nerve pain, but they may help with the pain itself.
Talk therapy. This might seem an odd treatment for nerve pain. But life with chronic pain can make people depressed -- and depression can make the feeling of pain more intense. Chronic pain can also lead to conflict with people at home and at work. A therapist can help you grapple with some of these issues and figure out ways to resolve them -- and help you come up with ways to stick to your treatment plan. Ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or a social worker.