Living with nerve pain can be a long-term proposition. Some neuropathic pain gets better with treatment or on its own, but that can take months or years. Other nerve pain stays the same for years or worsens slowly. Some nerve pain can't be reversed.
Your doctor can help you identify and treat neuropathic pain with the best available therapies. But there are also plenty of things you can do on your own to take care of pain.
What Causes Nerve Pain?
Neuropathic pain comes from nerve damage. Most commonly, this is caused by medical conditions such as diabetes, side effects from drugs or chemotherapy, or injuries.
Damaged nerves are more likely to misfire, sending pain signals when there is no cause for pain. They can also put you at risk for more serious problems such as foot infections.
All the causes of nerve pain are still largely a medical mystery. Researchers have identified several different ways nerves can misfire, and this has led to treatments that help many people.
Still, in surveys of people with nerve pain, most say they still have pain despite the best efforts of doctors. If you're one of them, you may want to look beyond conventional medicine for relief. Almost half of those with nerve pain report trying complementary or alternative approaches to improve their pain.
Strategies for Easing Nerve Pain
In addition to relieving pain, many self-care and home treatments can help prevent more serious problems and protect overall health. Some of these strategies may even trigger the body's natural painkillers, having the added benefit of making you feel good.
Walk it off.Exercise releases natural painkillers called endorphins. Exercise also promotes blood flow to the nerves in the legs and feet. Researchers believe that regular exercise may create a long-lasting expansion in blood vessels in the feet, nourishing damaged nerves back to health. Start with a daily walk, gradually increasing pace and distance.
Pamper your feet. If the feet are affected by nerve pain, it's time to focus on good foot care. Nerve pain usually means impaired sensation, making injuries and infections more likely. Reduce the risk by examining your feet daily, wearing comfortable shoes, and seeing a podiatrist regularly. No wound or injury to your feet is too minor for a consultation with a doctor.
Soak it away. A warm bath might be the easiest -- and least expensive -- home treatment for nerve pain. Warm water temporarily increases blood flow to the legs and can help ease stress as well. Avoid burns by measuring water temperature with your arm before stepping in.
Skip happy hour. Heavy alcohol use is toxic to nerves and can worsen nerve pain. There's no magic number for how many alcoholic beverages you can have and still avoid nerve pain, but some experts advise four drinks or less per week.
Sleep on it. Nerve pain can worsen at night, disrupting sleep and making it more difficult to cope with pain. Help break the cycle with good sleep habits. Limit afternoon caffeine intake, keep a consistent bedtime that allows for eight hours of sleep, and reserve the bedroom for sleep and sex.
Burn it out.Capsaicin cream, made from hot chili peppers, causes an uncomfortable burning sensation when initially applied. Some individuals find the burning sensation to be intolerable, especially when they are already suffering from a painful condition. But those who stick with it for weeks often report improvement in nerve pain (and less burning over time).
Numb it up. The anesthetic lidocaine -- in gel, ointment, or patches -- is available in prescription and over-the-counter preparations. The relief from lidocaine is satisfying, although temporary.
Rub it out. Some studies have shown that applying botanical oils such as geranium oil can reduce the pain of postherpetic neuralgia. Other oils, such as lavender oil, have been shown to help relax people, which may also help take the mind off nerve pain.
Meditate on it. Techniques such as guided imagery, meditation, biofeedback, and hypnosis help some people with nerve pain live better. Finding the right professional at a reasonable price can be challenging. Do your homework and ask for a referral from your doctor or someone whose advice you trust.