The nervous system is involved in everything your body does, which is why damage to it creates so much difficulty. It manages everything from regulating your breathing to controlling your muscles and movement. Though damage to your nervous system can be extremely difficult, there are several steps you can take to maintain your lifestyle.
Where does the pain come from?
Neuropathic pain is usually caused by damage to the nervous system. Damage often stems from medical conditions such as diabetes, side effects from drugs or chemotherapy, or from injuries. Damaged nerves sometimes misfire, sending pain signals to the brain when there is no cause.
In surveys of patients with nerve pain, most say that, despite doctor’s efforts, they still have pain. If you’re one of those who continue to suffer despite treatment, you may want to investigate options beyond conventional medicine for relief. Almost half of those with nerve pain report trying complementary or alternative approaches to improve their pain.
Damage to the nervous system involves three different types of nerves. The autonomic nerves control involuntary or partially voluntary activities in your body. The motor nerves control your movement by sending information out from your brain and through your spinal cord to your muscles.
The sensory nerves send information back from skin and muscles through the spinal cord to the brain. The information is processed by your brain to give you pain and other sensations.
What does nerve damage feel like?
There are a wide variety of symptoms associated with nerve damage, depending on the location and the types of nerves affected. Damage can occur in central locations, like the spinal cord or brain, or peripheral areas in the rest of your body.
It’s also possible to damage different types of nerves, and sometimes, people with nerve damage will have symptoms that indicate damage to two, or even three, different types of nerves. For instance, you might experience weakness and burning of your legs at the same time.
Damage to autonomic nerves can cause the following symptoms:
- The inability to sense chest pain, such as angina or heart attack
- Hyperhidrosis or too much sweating or anhidrosis or too little sweating
- Dry eyes and mouth
- Bladder dysfunction
- Sexual dysfunction
Damage to motor nerves can cause the following symptoms:
- Muscle atrophy
- Twitching, also known as fasciculation
Damage to sensory nerves can cause the following symptoms:
- Tingling or prickling
- Problems with positional awareness
What Strategies can I use to manage 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.
If you have diabetes, make sure you keep it under control. Diabetic nerve pain is best managed with normal blood sugar levels.
Keep moving. The body’s natural painkillers called endorphins are released by exercise. Movement also promotes blood flow to the nerves in the legs and feet. Researchers believe that regular exercise may help nourish damaged nerves back to health by creating a long-lasting expansion in blood vessels. Don’t go too hard too soon. Start with something simple and straightforward, like a daily walk, and gradually increase your pace and distance.
If your feet are the part of your body most affected by nerve pain, it’s time to focus on good foot care. Nerve pain often means impaired sensation, which can make injuries and infections to your feet more likely. Reduce the risk by examining them 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.
Go for a soak. A warm bath is probably the easiest and least expensive home treatment for nerve pain. Warm water temporarily increases blood flow and can help ease stress as well. Avoid burns by measuring water temperature with your arm before stepping in.
Besides pain, there are various other symptoms of nerve damage that a patient will have to manage. Because the nervous system is involved in everything you do, nerve pain and damage can have a serious impact on your quality of life. Depending on the severity of the damage, the patient or a friend or caregiver can utilize a number of strategies to help cope with the problems that nerve damage creates. These strategies can help a person with nerve damage cope with the complications that affect everyday activities, communication and interpersonal relationships.
Talk to your doctor or a rehabilitation therapist about joining a support group. Groups can help you talk about issues related to your injury, learn new coping strategies and help you get emotional support.
Keep a written record of important facts. These can be events, people’s names, tasks or other things that can be difficult to remember.
Keep a regular routine. To avoid confusion, keep to a consistent schedule, and designating places to keep items in. Take the same routes when going to frequently visited destinations.
Rest when you need to. At work or school arrange to be able to take breaks when needed.
Make necessary changes at work or school. This may mean having instructions read to you, allowing you more time to complete tasks or breaking tasks down into smaller steps.
Stay focused and avoid distractions. Work on one task at a time and minimize distractions such as loud background noise.
Learning to live with nerve pain or damage is often a long-term endeavor. Some neuropathic damage gets better with treatment or on its own, but it can take a very long time. Other nerve damage stays the same for years or worsens slowly and some can’t be reversed.
Your doctor can help you identify and treat neuropathic pain with the best available therapies. But there are also many things you can do for yourself on your own.