When the sensory system is affected by injury or disease, the nerves within that system can’t work properly to transmit sensations and feelings into the brain. This frequently contributes to a feeling of numbness, or lack of sensation. However, in certain cases, when this system is damaged, people may experience pain in the affected area.
Neuropathic pain does not start abruptly or resolve quickly; it’s chronic pain condition which leads to persistent pain symptoms. For most individuals, the intensity of their symptoms may wax and wane throughout the day. Although neuropathic pain is supposed to be related to peripheral nerve health issues, like neuropathy caused by diabetes or spinal stenosis, injuries to the brain or spinal cord may also lead to chronic neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain is also referred to as nerve pain.
Neuropathic pain may be contrasted to nociceptive pain. Neuropathic pain does not develop to any specific circumstance or outside stimulus, but rather, the symptoms occur simply because the nervous system may not be working accordingly. As a matter of fact, individuals can also experience neuropathic pain even when the aching or injured body part is not actually there. This condition is called phantom limb pain, which may occur in people after they’ve had an amputation.
Nociceptive pain is generally acute and develops in response to a specific circumstance, such as when someone experiences a sudden injury, like hammering a finger with a hammer or stubbing a toe when walking barefoot. Moreover, nociceptive pain tends to go away once the affected site heals. The body contains specialized nerve cells, known as nociceptors, which detect noxious stimuli that could damage the body, such as extreme heat or cold, pressure, pinching, and exposure to chemicals. These warning signals are then passed along the nervous system to the brain, resulting in nociceptive pain.
Anything that contributes to a lack of function within the sensory nervous system can lead to neuropathic pain. As such, nerve health issues from carpal tunnel syndrome, or similar conditions, can ultimately trigger neuropathic pain. Trauma, resulting in nerve injury, may lead to neuropathic pain. Other conditions which could predispose individuals to developing neuropathic pain include: diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, cancer, HIV, stroke, multiple sclerosis, shingles, and even some cancer treatments.
There are many causes from which individuals may develop neuropathic pain. But on a cellular level, one explanation is an increased release of certain receptors that indicate pain, together with a diminished ability of the nerves to modulate these signals, leads to the sensation of pain originating from the affected region. Additionally, in the spinal cord, the region which exerts painful signs is rearranged with corresponding changes in hormones and loss of normally-functioning mobile bodies. Those alterations result in the perception of pain in the absence of external stimulation. In the brain, the ability to block pain can be affected following an injury, such as stroke or trauma from an injury. As time passes, additional cell damage happens and the feeling of pain continues. Neuropathic pain is also related to diabetes, chronic alcohol intake, certain cancers, vitamin B deficiency, diseases, other nerve-related diseases, toxins, and specific drugs.
Contrary to other neurological conditions, identification of neuropathic pain can be challenging. However, several, if any, objective signals may be present. Healthcare professionals have to decipher and translate an assortment of words which patients use to describe their pain. Patients may describe their symptoms as sharp, dull, hot, cold, sensitive, itchy, deep, stinging, burning, among a variety of other descriptive terms. Additionally, some patients may experience pain through light touch or pressure.
In an effort to help identify how much pain patients could be undergoing, different scales are often used. Patients are asked to rate their pain according to a visual scale or numerical graph. Many examples of pain scales exist, such as the one demonstrated below. Often, pictures of faces depicting a variety of levels of pain may be helpful when individuals have a difficult time describing the quantity of pain they are experiencing.
For many, the impact of chronic pain may not be limited to the pain ; it may also negatively influence their mental state. New research studies conducted by scientists at the Northwestern University in Chicago can explain why individuals who have chronic pain also suffer with seemingly unrelated health issues, such as depression, stress, lack of sleep and difficulty concentrating.
The evaluation demonstrated that people with chronic pain show different regions of the brain which are always active, most specifically, the area associated with mood and attention. This continuous action rewires nerve connections from the brain and leaves chronic pain sufferers at greater risk for psychological problems. Researchers suggested that getting pain signals constantly could result in mental rewiring that adversely affects the mind. The rewiring compels their brains to devote mental resources differently to deal with everyday tasks, from mathematics, to recalling a shopping list, to feeling happy.
The pain-brain connection has been well recorded, at least anecdotally, and lots of healthcare professionals say they’ve seen first-hand the way the patient’s mental state can go downhill when they endure chronic pain. Misconceptions about the pain-brain connection may have emerged from a lack of evidence that pain has a measurable, lasting influence on the brain. Researchers expect that with additional research into the mechanisms of how chronic pain makes people more susceptible to mood disorders, people are going to have the ability to better manage their overall well-being.
Many things contribute to the way we experience and express pain, however, it has also been recently suggested by researchers that culture relates directly into the expression of pain. Our upbringing and societal values affect how we express pain and also its own nature, intensity and length. However, these variables aren’t as obvious as socio-psychological values, such as age and sex.
Research states that chronic pain is a multifaceted process and the concurrent interplay between pathophysiology, cognitive, affective, behavioral and sociocultural factors summate to what is referred to as the chronic pain experience. It’s emerged that chronic pain is experienced differently among patients of varied cultures and ethnicities.
Some cultures encourage the expression of pain, particularly in the southern Mediterranean and Middle East. Other individuals suppress it, as in the many lessons to our kids about behaving bravely and not crying. Pain is recognized as part of the human experience. We are apt to assume that communication about pain will seamlessly cross cultural boundaries. But people in pain are subject to the manners their civilizations have trained them to experience and express pain.
Both individuals in pain and healthcare professionals experience difficulties communicating pain across ethnic borders. In a matter like pain, where effective communication can have far-reaching implications for medical care, quality of life and potentially survival, the role of culture in pain communicating remains under-evaluated. Persistent pain is a multidimensional, a composite encounter formed by interweaving and co-influencing biological and psychosocial factors. Knowing the culmination of these factors is critical to understanding the differences of its manifestation and management.
The diagnosis of neuropathic pain relies upon additional evaluation of an individual’s history. If underlying nerve damage is suspected, then analysis of the nerves together with testing may be justified. The most common means to assess whether or not a nerve is injured is using electrodiagnostic medicine. This medical subspecialty utilizes techniques of nerve conduction studies with electromyelography (NCS/EMG). Clinical evaluation may show evidence of loss of work, and can include evaluation of light touch, the capacity to differentiate sharp out of dull pain and the ability to discern temperature, as well as the evaluation of vibration.
After a thorough clinical examination is completed, the electrodiagnostic analysis could be planned. These studies are conducted by specially trained neurologist and physiatrists. If neuropathy is suspected, a hunt for reversible causes ought to be accomplished. This can include blood function for vitamin deficiencies or thyroid problems, and imaging studies to exclude a structural lesion affecting the spinal cord. Depending on the results of this testing, there might be a means to decrease the intensity of the neuropathy and possibly reduce the pain that a patient is undergoing.
Regrettably, in many conditions, even good control of the underlying cause of the neuropathy can’t reverse the neuropathic pain. This is commonly seen in patients with diabetic neuropathy. In rare instances, there may be signs of changes in the skin and hair growth pattern in an affected region. These alterations may be associated with changes in perspiration. If present, these changes can help identify the likely presence of neuropathic pain related to a condition known as complex regional pain syndrome.
Dr. Alex Jimenez’s Insight
Neuropathic pain is a chronic pain condition which is generally associated with direct damage or injury to the nervous system or nerves. This type of pain is different from nociceptive pain, or the typical sensation of pain. Nociceptive pain is an acute or sudden sensation of pain which causes the nervous system to send signals of pain immediately after the trauma occurred. With neuropathic pain, however, patients may experience shooting, burning pain without any direct damage or injury. Understanding the possible causes of the patient’s neuropathic pain versus any other type of pain, can help healthcare professionals find better ways to treat chronic pain conditions.
Various medicines are used in an attempt to treat neuropathic pain. The majority of these drugs are utilized off-label, which means that the medicine was approved by the FDA to treat different conditions and was then recognized as being advantageous to treat neuropathic pain. Tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline, nortriptyline and desipramine, have been prescribed for management of neuropathic pain for several years.
Some individuals find that these may be very effective in giving them relief. Other kinds of antidepressants have been shown to offer some relief. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, such as paroxetine and citalopram, and other antidepressants , such as venlafaxine and bupropion, have been utilized in certain patients. Another frequent treatment of neuropathic pain incorporates antiseizure medications, including carbamazepine, phenytoin, gabapentin, lamotrigine, and others.
In acute cases of painful neuropathy which don’t respond to first-line brokers, drugs typically utilized to treat heart arrhythmias may be of some benefit; however, these can lead to significant side effects and often have to be monitored closely. Medications applied directly to the skin can offer modest to perceptible benefit for some patients. The forms commonly used include lidocaine (in patch or gel type) or capsaicin.
Treating neuropathic pain is dependent on the underlying cause. If the cause is reversible, then the peripheral nerves can regenerate and the pain will abate; nonetheless, this reduction in pain may take several months to years. Several other alternative treatment options, including chiropractic care and physical therapy, may also be utilized in order to help relieve tension and stress along the nerves, ultimately helping to improve painful symptoms.
Many individuals with neuropathic pain are able to get some measure of aid, even when their pain persists. Although neuropathic pain isn’t dangerous to a patient, the presence of chronic pain can negatively affect quality of life. Patients with chronic nerve pain might suffer from sleep deprivation or mood disorders, including depression, anxiety and stress, as previously mentioned above. Because of the inherent alopecia and lack of sensory feedback, patients are at risk of developing injury or infection or unknowingly causing an escalation of a present injury. Therefore, it’s essential to seek immediate medical attention and follow specific guidelines directed by a healthcare professional for safety and caution.
The best way to prevent neuropathic pain is to avoid the development or progression of neuropathy. Monitoring and changing lifestyle options, including restricting the use of alcohol and tobacco; keeping a healthy weight to lower the chance of diabetes, degenerative joint disease, or stroke; and having great ergonomic form at work or when practicing hobbies to lower the risk of repetitive stress injury are strategies to decrease the probability of developing neuropathy and potential neuropathic pain. Make sure to seek immediate medical attention in the case of any symptoms associated with neuropathic pain in order to proceed with the most appropriate treatment approach. The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic as well as to spinal injuries and conditions. To discuss the subject matter, please feel free to ask Dr. Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900 .
Curated by Dr. Alex Jimenez
Back pain is one of the most prevalent causes for disability and missed days at work worldwide. As matter of fact, back pain has been attributed as the second most common reason for doctor office visits, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections. Approximately 80 percent of the population will experience some type of back pain at least once throughout their life. The spine is a complex structure made up of bones, joints, ligaments and muscles, among other soft tissues. Because of this, injuries and/or aggravated conditions, such as herniated discs, can eventually lead to symptoms of back pain. Sports injuries or automobile accident injuries are often the most frequent cause of back pain, however, sometimes the simplest of movements can have painful results. Fortunately, alternative treatment options, such as chiropractic care, can help ease back pain through the use of spinal adjustments and manual manipulations, ultimately improving pain relief.
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The information herein on "What is Neuropathic Pain?" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, or licensed physician, and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make your own healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.
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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, ATN*
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