Neuropathic pain is a form of chronic pain caused by damage to or dysfunction of the central and peripheral nervous system. Nerves are responsible for sending information, including pain signals to the brain and spinal cord.
When these nerves are damaged or stop functioning correctly, they can send false or exaggerated pain signals to the brain – resulting in chronic neuropathic pain.
Causes of Neuropathic Pain
Neuropathic pain can be caused by various factors, including physical trauma, surgery, cancer, neurological disorders, viral infections, and diseases such as diabetes. Other factors like alcoholism, smoking, mental illness, and certain medications may also contribute to the development of neuropathic pain. In some cases, there may be no clear cause for neuropathic pain.
Symptoms of Neuropathic Pain
The symptoms of neuropathic pain can vary from person to person. Some commonly reported symptoms include burning, shooting, or electric-like pain; numbness or tingling; and increased sensitivity to touch, temperature, or pressure. People diagnosed with neuropathic pain may also experience evoked pain or pain that is triggered by a non-painful stimulus, such as cold weather or soft touch.
Neuropathic pain is extremely debilitating and can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. For some people, even seemingly innocuous activities like getting dressed or a pat on the back can lead to excruciating pain.
Factors that Aggravate Neuropathic Pain
Several factors have been shown to aggravate neuropathic pain. They include:
For many people living with neuropathic pain, cold weather can cause their symptoms to flare up. Exposure to cold temperatures slows blood circulation in the extremities. This means that the nerves in your hands and feet don’t get the blood and oxygen they need to function properly, leading to increased pain sensitivity.
Stress is a common trigger for many chronic pain conditions, including neuropathic pain. When you’re stressed, your body releases stress hormones that can cause inflammation. This can exacerbate nerve damage and increase pain signals sent to the brain.
Changes in Sleep Patterns
Sleep is crucial for pain management. Lack of sleep impedes the body’s ability to heal and repair. This can make nerve pain worse and increase pain sensitivity. Unfortunately, chronic pain can make it hard to get a good night’s sleep, creating a vicious cycle of pain and sleep deprivation.
Excessive Alcohol Consumption
Alcohol is a potent nervous system depressant. When consumed in large quantities, it can damage nerves or further devastate existing nerve problems, leading to severe neuropathic pain.
Smoking is another common trigger for neuropathic pain. Nicotine constricts blood vessels and reduces blood flow, which can cause the progression of nerve damage and worsen the pain.
While a few cups of coffee in everyday life may not seem like a big deal, excessive caffeine can worsen neuropathic pain. Like nicotine, caffeine constricts blood vessels and reduces blood flow to the extremities leading to elevated pain.
We all know that moderate or low-impact exercises can be very effective for pain management. But for people with neuropathic pain, strenuous or rigorous exercises may have the opposite effect. This is mainly because overusing your muscles, joints, and nerves can lead to inflammation and further damage your nerves.
Other factors that can worsen neuropathic pain include high blood sugar levels, excessive weight, hormonal changes, and certain medications.
Treating Neuropathic Pain
There are a variety of treatment options available for neuropathic pain, and the best course of treatment will vary from person to person. In most cases, treating the underlying condition can help improve neuropathic pain.
Your doctor may also recommend medication to help keep the pain in check. This may include over-the-counter pain relievers for mild to moderate pain, more potent prescription medications like antidepressants and opioids for severe pain, or even innovative new treatments like ketamine infusion therapy.