Neuropathy involves a dysfunction of nerves that leads to lost sensation in different areas of the body. Although this lost sensation is not always associated with pain, a good deal of people may begin to experience pain in addition to this lost sensation, defining the condition commonly known as Neuropathic Pain. This pain is unique because it occurs without any stimulation. This can mean that even clothing can stimulate a response interpreted as pain.
Although Neuropathic Pain comes and goes over time, the longevity of the condition is what makes it of concern to many people. Because so many different factors can exacerbate the pain, it is imperative to understand the condition and seek treatment in order to know how to handle the pain and how to manage the pain while pursuing normal daily activities.
Getting to the Roots of Neuropathic Pain
Neuropathic Pain, like many chronic pain disorders, is not known to have a specific cause. However, through many years of research, it has been traced back to a few specific factors that can fairly successfully predict its onset. Most frequently, Neuropathic Pain is caused by disease, nerve damage or other types of neuropathic pain conditions.
Diseases are among the most common causes for nerve damage and the subsequent Neuropathic Pain that follows. Chronic Neuropathic Pain is most commonly caused by disorders such as cancer, Multiple Sclerosis, Alcoholism, HIV, Guillain-Barré Syndrome and Diabetes. Each one of these disorders includes some component that can damage different types of nerves. For this reason, chronic pain is common.
Nerve damage is another culprit that can often result in Neuropathic Pain. This is because these ailments often cause damage to central or peripheral nerves through trauma, surgery, exposure to toxins or extreme swelling. Just some of the conditions that may result from nerve damage include Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Post-Mastectomy Pain (PMPS), Central Pain Syndrome and Sciatica. Inflammation can often be part of the problem when it comes to these conditions, as swelling only worsens the pain being felt.
While there is some indication as to the causes of the above types of Neuropathic pain, up to 30 percent of chronic pain cases fall into an ambiguous category. The reality of the situation is that there remains a lot to be learned in terms of chronic Neuropathic Pain, and until more cases materialize for study, such cases are to remain a mystery.
Warning Signs for Neuropathic Pain
Prior to many patients seeking help from a physician, they will attempt to manage the chronic pain and discomfort on their own for a number of weeks, months or even years. Pain is most commonly felt in their feet and legs but it is not uncommon for the upper extremities to be involved as well.
Common sensations that are felt include burning, stabbing, prickling or tingling, although other types of pain are not uncommon. Each person is truly unique with regard to the region in which they experience the pain and the intensity with which the pain is felt. Aside from the intense, constant pain, Neuropathic Pain has no other warning signs. For this reason, should an individual experience extreme, consistent pain, they should alert a physician as soon as possible.
Unfortunately for those suffering from Neuropathic Pain, there is no objective test that has been discovered to determine whether or not the pain being felt is due to neuropathy. However, when patients seek help from a physician due to their pain, it is typical for a doctor to follow certain steps to help further determine what is truly causing a person’s pain and discomfort.
The first step in diagnosing Neuropathic Pain is typically a physical examination. Because of the loss of feeling in different areas of a person’s body, a doctor will often examine these areas with different tests to determine the range of movement an individual still has in response to a stimulus. Although strength and reflexes are typically normal in a patient with Neuropathic Pain, sensations are often the biggest sign that neuropathy is involved in the diagnosis.
If a physical examination indicates some existence of Neuropathic Pain, a doctor might then order additional tests to either confirm or deny any suspicions. Often times, a physician will use electromyography to determine the severity of the neuropathy. This also often indicates anything that may be causing the neuropathy, helping to tailor future treatment to ease the discomfort caused by the pain itself.
The most extreme causes of Neuropathic Pain necessitate MRI or CT scans to define further causes of the neuropathy, offering a more detailed glimpse into the body’s inner workings. In even more extreme cases, skin or nerve biopsies can be performed, although this doesn’t always give doctors a better idea as to what is truly occurring to cause the pain.
Treatment Options for Neuropathic Pain
Because there are no objective tests to address Neuropathic Pain, there are no typical solutions either. For those seeking relief, however, there are many options in existence to help facilitate a better recovery and higher quality of life.
In most cases of Neuropathic Pain, a doctor will prescribe antidepressants and anticonvulsants. Both of these medications work by blocking proteins that function as reuptakers, effectively increasing serotonin and norepinephrine levels. Often times, individuals suffering from chronic pain have low levels of these neurotransmitters known to promote general well-being and happiness. For this reason, both medications are effective, in some people that is, to ease the pain that is caused by neuropathy.
It is important to be aware that these medications only produce significant improvement in about half of all patients. This causes many individuals to consider the use of topical creams and pain relievers for Neuropathic Pain. Lidocaine is one of the most popular topical treatments in existence for chronic pain. The treatment works by blocking gated sodium channels and is seen as being more effective because it can be applied directly on the area that is causing the most pain. Another option for individuals is Capsaicin, which is a good choice for less severe pain.
A less popular, but effective, way in which to reduce pain is through medical marijuana. THC, the main psychoactive compound in medicinal marijuana, has been proven effective in numerous trials for reducing chronic pain such as that caused by neuropathy. While medical marijuana won’t eliminate the pain completely, it will help to lessen the severity with which the pain is felt.
Another less popular option for treating chronic pain is in the wide variety of opiates available for pain relief. Drugs like oxycontin and morphine are shown to be extremely effective, but also extremely addictive. For this reason, many people choose to stray from this option and instead opt for traditional medication in combination with alternative therapies such as acupuncture. Acupuncture is known to ease the Neuropathic Pain through stimulating qi and bringing the body back into balance. Other options for alternative therapies include massages, Intravenous Immunoglobulin Therapy (IVIG) and oils.
Coping With Chronic, Neuropathic Pain
While learning to live with chronic pain is never easy, especially in the case of Neuropathic Pain, it is possible. The most important thing to keep in mind is that chronic pain doesn’t have to be the determinative factor in terms of quality of life. Getting pain under control is essential to daily functioning, and there are many ways in which an individual can cope with their Neuropathic Pain.
One of the most important steps that an individual can take is to seek out peers that will not only understand the situation at hand, but also that can help to guide a person with their own coping strategies. When people with similar conditions meet, it is common for some to have experienced different treatments or coping mechanisms in order to handle their chronic pain. Because of this, an individual can be made aware of a solution that they had never previously considered, allowing them to better their life not only through group meetings, but through strategies employed as a result of those meetings.
Keeping a pain journal is another way in which to cope with chronic Neuropathic Pain. If an individual is uncomfortable with joining a support group or sharing their condition with friends and family, a journal is a great way to air private thoughts to get them out of one’s head and onto paper. Venting frustrations on paper is often an effective way for someone to come to terms with how they are feeling, allowing them to move on from those feelings and start anew.
A person can also document their pain in these journals to help document trends that occur throughout the weeks in terms of discomfort, location of pain and intensity. This may also help at doctor visits to help a physician better determine what is going on during the weeks that they never bear witness to.
Relaxation is another essential component of coping with chronic Neuropathic Pain. The excessive stress that typically results from chronic pain is enough to further exacerbate the discomfort already being felt, making a condition worse and worse over time. Learning to relax through alternative therapies can help ease the tension being experience day after day, which is good for someone both mentally and physically.
Getting to the Bottom of Neuropathic Pain
Chronic Neuropathic Pain is a startling reality for some people. It is hard to imagine living day after day with the same pain that can be both debilitating and stressful. However, with the proper treatment and support, an individual doesn’t have to live with their condition, as dedication to finding solutions is key for this chronic pain ailment.