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What is neuropathic pain?

Neuropathic pain is a pain that feels like shooting, burning, or pins and needles. Neuropathic pain is a common type of chronic (long-lasting) pain. It can come and go, and it can be so serious it interferes with your daily life. Neuropathic pain can make it difficult to move, which can lead to mobility issues. 

Neuropathic pain is pain that comes from damage to the nerves or nervous system, which is what allows us to feel sensation. When nerves get damaged, nerve function changes at the site of the injury and in the areas around it.

Neuropathic pain can involve:

  • Sharp, shooting, burning, or stabbing pain
  • Tingling 
  • Numbness
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Not being able to feel heat or cold
  • Muscle weakness
  • Worse pain at night

Causes of neuropathic pain

Neuropathic pain can be caused by any illness or injury that affects your nervous system. Some common causes of neuropathic pain include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • HIV infection or AIDS
  • Nerve-related diseases, like multiple sclerosis
  • Damage to the spinal cord from a herniated disc or arthritis
  • Shingles
  • Thyroid problems 

Sometimes, doctors can’t find a cause of neuropathic pain.

Neuropathic pain and chronic pain

Neuropathic pain is a common type of chronic pain. Chronic pain is long-term pain — pain in the body that lasts more than 12 weeks. It’s different from acute pain, which is usually pain that signals an injury. With chronic pain, your body can continue to send pain signals to your brain even after the initial cause has been treated. Chronic pain can last for months or years.

Neuropathic pain and nociceptive pain

Neuropathic pain is different from nociceptive pain. Nociceptive pain is caused by damage to body tissue, and it feels different from neuropathic pain. Nociceptive pain is a sharp, aching, or throbbing pain. It can be caused by an external injury, like stubbing your toe, or an internal problem, such as cancer or a tumor. 

Nociceptive pain is different from neuropathic pain because nociceptive pain develops in response to a specific stimulus to the body, while neuropathic pain doesn’t. People can even have neuropathic pain when the limb they are feeling pain in isn’t there anymore. This is sometimes called phantom pain.

Phantom limb syndrome is a type of phantom pain. Phantom limb syndrome happens when an arm or a leg has been amputated (removed) because of illness or injury, but the brain still gets pain messages from the nerves that used to send messages from the missing limb. These nerves misfire and cause pain.

How do doctors treat neuropathic pain?

Treatment for neuropathic pain often means treating the underlying condition, such as taking medicines to manage your diabetes or multiple sclerosis or having surgery on your herniated disc. It also means finding the right combination of pain management strategies. Treatment for neuropathic pain may include:

  • Physical therapy to help strengthen and stretch the affected muscles or joints
  • Over-the-counter medicines, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Prescription medicines, like opioids or antidepressants
  • Medical procedures, such as electrical stimulation or nerve blocking
  • Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture or yoga
  • Surgery to treat the underlying injury or illness

We successfully treat neuropathic pain at Beaumont 

Beaumont neurologists, pain management specialists and other professionals treat neuropathic pain with the latest technology and pain management procedures. Our neurology and pain medicine team provides comprehensive and state-of-the-art care for pain. We have services to help patients with all forms of pain, including acute pain, such as during medical procedures and after surgery, and chronic pain. 

At Beaumont's Centers for Pain Medicine and other locations, we provide treatment from a multi-disciplinary perspective, individually tailoring care to meet each patient’s pain management needs. We can offer intervention methods to reduce pain severity, improve coping and quality of life, and increase physical functioning. 

Make an appointment at Beaumont

If you’re experiencing any type of neuropathic or chronic pain, we can help. We are committed to delivering the highest quality of integrated care.

Call us today at 800-633-7377 to make an appointment with a Beaumont neurology or pain medicine specialist or another medical professional who can help you manage your pain.