What Are Some Pain Relief Treatments for Nerve Damage?

Staff WriterLast Updated Jun 24, 2020 7:16:18 PM ET
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Nerve damage often develops following a disease or injury, and it can cause a number of uncomfortable sensations and symptoms. Fortunately, there's a variety of ways you can find relief and ease the pain associated with nerve damage's sensory effects. If you live with nerve pain, learn more about it and potential treatment options to discuss with your doctor to begin boosting your well-being and living a more comfortable life.

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What Is Nerve Damage?

Your nervous system is a network of nerve cells that transmit signals between your brain and spinal cord and the rest of your body. Many of your nerves are the "messengers" in this network, delivering information to your brain about sensations they're detecting and feeling in the areas of your body in which they're located. Your brain registers and processes these sensations, which causes you to physically feel the sensations about which your nerves are delivering information. Your body also has motor nerves, which control the movements that your muscles make, and autonomic nerves, which control many of your bodily functions like your heart rate and digestive processes.

There are dozens of different types of nerve damage, and they can result from a variety of different causes. Some of the most common causes are infections, trauma, nutritional deficiencies and various diseases like cancer and diabetes. When nerves become damaged for whatever reason, it means they're not working the way they typically would. They might endure physical damage, such as compression from a cancerous tumor, or they may become unable to perform their usual jobs because your body isn't getting the nutrients it needs for the nerves to carry out their typical functions. 

The basis of nerve damage is that the signals between your brain and nerves are disrupted in some way that prevents normal functioning. When damage occurs, your nerves may also begin sending false signals to your brain, making you feel as though something painful is happening even when it isn't, and causing other symptoms.

What Does Nerve Damage Feel Like?

Nerve pain resulting from damage can cause a wide variety of different, uncomfortable sensations. While "pain" is used as a catch-all term for this discomfort, the way that pain presents itself varies based on the location of the nerves and the types of nerves that are affected. Nerve damage can cause a complete loss of sensation or a feeling of numbness; for example, nerve damage in your hands can create the sensation that you're always wearing gloves and are unable to fully feel something you're holding or move your fingers properly. It can also result in sensitivity to touch, and even something as light as a bedsheet can feel uncomfortable brushing against your skin.

Aside from these sensations, nerve damage may also cause varying degrees of pain. It may start out as a dull tingling that progresses into a strong burning that spreads around a limb or other area of your body. Or, it may feel like sharp, stabbing pain concentrated in one spot. The pain can also feel like it's throbbing or jabbing. These symptoms are all primarily associated with sensory nerves.

When it comes to damage involving motor nerves, symptoms are a bit different. Your muscles may feel weak, and it may be difficult to move. You also may find yourself falling or stumbling if the damage affects your coordination, and in some cases the damage can feel similar to paralysis, or an inability to move certain parts of your body. Twitching is another common symptom of motor nerve damage.

Autonomic nerve damage creates symptoms that impact some of the essential processes in your body. For example, it may dull the sensation of chest pain related to heart or circulation issues. It can also result in bladder and bowel dysfunction or cause you to sweat excessively for seemingly no reason.

Treatment: Pain Relievers

For nerve pain that's mild, over-the-counter painkillers like aspirin and ibuprofen can be effective options that provide relief. However, if your nerve damage causes severe pain, your doctor may prescribe a medication that's stronger such as an opioid. These powerful drugs typically become options after you've tried other medications and found that they weren't effective. Even though opioids can relieve difficult pain, they can have adverse side effects. Your doctor may want to search for a different option to provide long-term pain treatment.

Treatment: Antidepressants and Anticonvulsants

Using antidepressants along with anticonvulsants, which are drugs that were developed to control epilepsy, may help ease nerve pain. Because chronic pain can lead to depression, which makes people even more sensitive to nerve pain, antidepressants are often helpful. However, these medications are effective in their own right at easing the pain of nerve damage. To reduce the side effects of these drugs, your doctor may prescribe a low dose and then increase it over time. There are several different types of antidepressants, and each works differently, so your doctor may have you try multiple options before you can determine which is most effective for your pain.

Treatment: Topical Medication

If you have pain in specific locations on your skin, a topical medicine, either over-the-counter or prescription, can give you relief by numbing the pain. These come in a variety of forms, including creams, gels and patches, which you can apply exactly where you feel the pain, and they typically contain a numbing agent called lidocaine. They work best on smaller, more localized areas of pain close to the surface of your skin. Botanical ingredients might also help relieve nerve pain. Some of these topical medications contain capsaicin, which comes from chili peppers. This compound may briefly increase sensitivity where you apply it, but this develops into prolonged desensitization as you continue to apply the topical capsaicin cream over time.

Complementary Approaches

Meditation and massage therapy may be useful for relieving some of the stress you may experience while working to handle your nerve pain. Even though exercising and eating a healthy diet may not relieve nerve pain, they can also help to make you more comfortable. Your doctor might recommend supplements when you have nerve pain that's due to a nutritional deficiency. For example, if your body isn't getting enough vitamin B12, your physician may advise you to start taking supplemental doses of it in capsule or other form.

Resource Links:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3886382/

https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/biology-of-the-nervous-system/nerves

https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Peripheral-Neuropathy-Fact-Sheet

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14737-neuropathy

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/peripheral-neuropathy/symptoms-causes/syc-20352061

https://www.foundationforpn.org/what-is-peripheral-neuropathy/causes/

https://www.aanem.org/Patients/Muscle-and-Nerve-Disorders/Peripheral-Neuropathy