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A shooting pain that takes your breath away. A throbbing ache that won’t let up. Tingling fingers and toes. Nerve pain comes in various forms and can be debilitating in many ways—depression, anxiety, and infections, for example.
Our bodies contain billions of nerves that send billions of messages to our brains and spinal cords. Messages like, “Ouch, that’s hot” or “Yikes, that hurts.” Any damage to these nerves can disrupt the messaging process, causing a multitude of problems. Your nerves may send pain messages when there’s no reason to, for instance. Or, damaged nerves could leave you without feeling in your hand, meaning the “ouch, that’s hot” message won’t get through. With almost 20 million Americans suffering from peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage to the arms and legs) it’s no wonder so many of us are searching for nerve pain relief.
Far too often, treating nerve pain is an uphill battle. As stated by researchers of a study published in the journal Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, “Chronic neuropathic pain is difficult to treat and is often characterized by either exaggerated responses to painful stimuli (hyperalgesia) or pain resulting from stimuli that would not normally provoke pain (allodynia).” In other words, our bodies go into hyperdrive with all guns firing; only they’re shooting pain signals instead of blanks.
Looking for nerve pain relief? Read on to find ways to reduce your discomfort.
What Causes Nerve Pain?
While we still don’t know all the causes of nerve pain, we do know that nerves are most often damaged by disease, injury, or the use of drugs, such as chemotherapy. According to the Foundation of Peripheral Neuropathy, 60 percent of people are afflicted with the condition as the result of diabetes, 23 percent from unknown causes, and 10 percent from chemotherapy. The remaining cases could stem from one of these culprits:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Brain injury
- Cancer (or associated treatments such as chemotherapy)
- Heavy drinking
- Lyme disease
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Nerve injury
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Poor blood supply to the nerves
- Repetitive motion
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Spinal injury
- Sudden trauma (e.g., a car accident)
- Trapped nerves
- Vitamin deficiencies, especially B12 or B1
What Does Nerve Pain Feel Like?
Pain is subjective, which means we all feel it differently. Depending on the severity of your nerve damage, location of the impairment, and other medical factors, you may sense a lesser or greater amount of pain than others with a similar affliction. Symptoms range from mild tingling sensations to burning to intolerable stabbing pain.
SEVERE NERVE PAIN? SEEK MEDICAL HELP
Nerve pain can be a serious, debilitating condition. While mild pain can be relieved by certain natural methods, more severe pain may require prescription medications or other treatments to find true nerve pain relief. Seek help from a medical professional to find the right treatment for your condition.
What Medications Can Provide Nerve Pain Relief?
While over-the-counter medications (such as acetaminophen) or an NSAID (like ibuprofen) may help in certain cases, they don’t often reduce severe nerve pain. Talk to your doctor about other medications such as anticonvulsants (for example, Neurontin), gabapentenoids (e.g., gabapentin and pregablin), and antidepressants (e.g., Cymbalta and Prozac).
Non-Prescription Options for Nerve Pain Relief
When medications aren’t enough to reduce the pain, or their side effects become more bothersome than your symptoms, try adding other, more natural options for optimal nerve pain relief.
Here are 10 treatments to try:
- Rub on a topical pain killer. Over-the-counter concoctions such as St. John’s Wort oil or creams that contain capsacin (from hot chili peppers) can be rubbed directly on an area causing the most pain. It burns at first but is said to reduce pain and inflammation. Creams containing lidocaine can help numb the region, but their effects are temporary.
- Get a massage. A small 2012 study found that having a massage (or six, weekly 60- to 75-minute massages in this case) can reduce the severity of nerve pain. In the study, massage aided in manipulating and mobilizing the patient’s foot and leg (the areas affected by her nerve pain), reducing her discomfort. Massage can also work by releasing tension and promoting relaxation.
- Acupuncture. This ancient Chinese practice of sticking thin, metallic needles in specific points of the skin or body (the hand or feet, for example) can offer nerve pain relief. The needles alter the flow of energy (a.k.a. the qi) and may help release endorphins, the body’s natural pain-relievers. While evidence is varied as to its true effects on pain, acupuncture may be worth a shot. Make sure to see a certified acupuncturist to ensure the best, safest treatment.
- Physical therapy. Physical therapy is a treatment of choice for dealing with chronic nerve pain. Regular sessions can provide nerve pain relief by strengthening weak areas, increasing range of motion, and teaching patients how to move to reduce discomfort.
- Biofeedback. A process by which we learn to control some of our body’s more major stress responses (e.g., heart rate and breathing). Electrical sensors provide feedback about our body. This “feedback” alerts our brains to an imbalance and reminds us to focus on that area of tension (or pain) to help relax (or relieve) it. A 2015 pilot study of paraplegics suffering from central neuropathic pain found that neurofeedback training (a type of biofeedback that tracks brain waves) reduced both immediate and long-term pain.
- Exercise. While this may be the last thing you want to do when you’re in pain, multiple research studies have proven that regular exercise (e.g., a 30-minute brisk walk five times a week) can decrease pain. A 2017 review of 381 studies found that exercising may reduce the severity of nerve pain, increase physical function and improve quality of life. Here’s how: physical activity boosts blood flow to nerves and helps reduce inflammation.
- Practice yoga. Yoga provides nerve pain relief in three ways: by strengthening the body, (thereby improving posture), increasing flexibility and promoting relaxation. Authors of a study published in Integrative Medicine International claim that yoga can relieve low back pain and improve balance. Despite recommending further research, they suggest adding yoga to a nerve pain relief regimen.
- Quit smoking. A small study found that smoking dramatically increases nerve pain. When one of the two men studied quit smoking for one month, his pain disappeared. After he resumed smoking, his pain returned at a level of 8.5/10 in the morning and 5/10 in the afternoon.
- Get Botox. More than just a cosmetic treatment, Botox, a toxin used to weaken or paralyze certain muscles, can also block nerves, providing nerve pain relief and preventing migraines. A 2015 study on mice found that injecting Botox (type B) produced long-lasting reductions in pain caused by nerve injury or chemotherapy-related nerve damage.
- Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This method of psychological therapy attempts to correct ingrained patterns of negative behaviors and thoughts. CBT can help teach coping methods to help deal with and possibly lessen chronic nerve pain.
SOURCES & RESOURCES
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- Sciatica Pain Management: Find the Root Cause and Weigh Your Treatment Options
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This article was originally published in 2018. It is regularly updated.