The nervous system is responsible for everything you do, so it’s no wonder that neuropathic pain has a major impact on your life.
There are other symptoms of neuropathic diseases other than pain, but the pain is what we’ll talk about right now.
While neuropathic pain can be hard to describe, it can be likened to having a part of your body be permanently “asleep.”
There is often some numbness, but also the inevitable tingling, burning or stabbing pain as the nerve endings wake up again.
Neuropathic pain is most often a symptom of an underlying problem like diabetes, alcoholism or autoimmune disease.
However, it can also be caused by vitamin-B deficiency, tumors, infections, cancer treatments and certain hereditary disorders.
In cases where the cause of neuropathic pain is known, then treatment will focus on the underlying condition.
In almost a third of cases, however, the underlying cause of the pain is unknown. In these instances, and in situations where treatment of the underlying cause doesn’t relieve the pain, other treatments are necessary.
These include drug treatment, topical treatment, medical marijuana, physiological treatments and exercise, and vitamin and dietary supplements.
While there may several drug approaches to neuropathic pain, often one of the first explored are antidepressants.
Researchers aren’t sure why they work, but antidepressants often help with neuropathic pain.
A prescription for SNRIs or tricyclic antidepressants aren’t an indication that a doctor believe your symptoms are psychological.
An anticonvulsant like Gabapentin might also be prescribed. These drugs prevent calcium from entering neurons and causing a biochemical reaction which can result in neuropathic pain.
While different drugs have different side-effects, Gabapentin’s main side effects are drowsiness, dizziness and diarrhea.
There is no doubt that opiates are capable of relieving almost any kind of pain, neurological or otherwise.
However, these drugs have a number of side effects and run the risk of creating an addiction, and patients can be reluctant to use them and doctors reluctant to prescribe them.
However, because antidepressants and anticonvulsants can take several days to take effect, opiates are sometimes prescribed in conjunction with first-line treatments.
Also, where other options aren’t effective at relieving pain, long-acting opiates are often prescribed to stay on top of the pain while other solutions are explored.
About half of patients will not respond to anticonvulsants and antidepressants. In those situations, topical pain relief is attempted.
Lidocaine is a topical pain reliever that has a long history and has been around since the 1940s. It is very well known and understood.
The drug works on neuropathic pain by blocking channels through which the nervous system sends pain signals to the brain.
Typically, it’s prescribed in 5 percent patches to be applied to painful areas and worn for a day.
An alternative topical treatment is Capsaicin. The active ingredient in capsaicin is derived from chili peppers, and it also works, in the same manner as Lidocaine, by blocking the path of pain impulses.
Capsaicin patches and creams are widely available over the counter for the deep-heating treatment of minor muscle pain.
However, the dosages required for the treatment of chronic neuropathic pain are much higher and therefore require a prescription.
For cases where topical treatments don’t provide enough relief or where neuropathic pain is random or not localized, patients may want to try something a little crazier than a cream.
Medical marijuana has often been the butt of jokes and is often seen as nothing but a “stoner” drug.
However, the idea of medical marijuana has been around since at least 1970, and is rapidly gaining more and more legitimacy, so individuals shouldn’t feel nervous about using it.
The main psychoactive ingredient of marijuana is THC, and the benefits cannabinoids, which include THC, have been confirmed in multiple randomized trials.
Cannabis serves at least two important roles in safe, effective pain management. Either alone or in combination with other analgesics it is able to provide pain relief.
It can also control the nausea associated with taking opiates commonly prescribed for pain, and, finally, it gives some control over the nausea, vomiting and dizziness that often accompanies severe, prolonged pain.
Many patients also report that cannabis enhances their ability to process the pain experience.
While individuals are still aware that the pain is present, it doesn’t have the same debilitating physical or emotional impact.
This allows patients to function effectively in spite of their condition.
It seems counterintuitive, but getting some exercise is helpful to manage nerve pain. 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.
It’s also worth consulting your doctor regarding something called nerve flossing and McKenzie exercises.
In fact, any exercise regime should be done in consultation with your doctor. You want to be certain that you don’t further aggravate your condition rather than helping it.
Another physiological treatment that has shown some promise is acupuncture. Like marijuana, this is a treatment that has come in for some derision.
However, the Chinese have used this treatment for thousands of years, and many people respond to this method of treatment for their pain.
It works by the insertion of thin needles into specific areas of the body and bring vital energy in the nervous system back into balance. Researchers can’t yet explain why it works, but it has been effective.
Neuropathy can be a mystery, and so exploring options to ease your pain is essential. In cases where it’s clear what the underlying causes are, your doctor will be able to prescribe medications and treatments.
However, where you and your doctor are not able to discover a cause, then it will be necessary to investigate other possible treatments.