What Does Nerve Pain Feel Like?

A Guide to Neuropathic Pain and its Unique Symptoms

Experiencing neck pain.
Experiencing neck pain. Rob Gage/Getty Images

Neuropathic pain, also called nerve pain, is one of the many classes of chronic pain. Nerve pain is complex and can be caused by nerve damage, irritation, or destruction.

How Nerve Pain Can Feel

Most people describe their chronic nerve pain with a similar set of words. Regardless of the cause, nerve pain can feel like any of the following:

  • Burning
  • Tingling
  • Shooting
  • Sharp
  • Stabbing
  • Prickling

Like other types of pain, nerve pain may vary in intensity.

For some, it can feel like mildly bothersome pins and needles. For others, the pain may be severe and nearly unbearable. Additionally, nerve pain may be localized (felt at or near the area of nerve damage) or referred (felt somewhere else in the body).

Learning how to describe your nerve pain can help your doctor more quickly diagnose and effectively treat your pain. Learn to take note of what your pain feels like during your everyday life. Consider keeping a pain journal so you have something to reference when talking with your doctor.

Nerve Pain Terminology to Know

Because nerve pain is unique, it has some medical buzzwords associated with it. Nerve pain sensations may be described with these buzzwords, which include:

  • Allodynia: When a person experiences pain after a stimulus that shouldn’t cause pain under ordinary circumstances, it is called allodynia.
  • Hyperalgesia: If a person has hyperalgesia, mildly painful stimuli may be felt with greater intensity.
  • Dysesthesia: Dysesthesia describes some sort of impairment in sensation. It can describe pain that is felt when there is no stimulus present at all, also called spontaneous pain.

Though you do not need to be able to rattle off this medical terminology when sitting in your doctor's office, it is good to tell your doctor about your pain and when you feel it.

Do you feel nerve pain sensations when touched or is your pain seemingly spontaneous?

Other Symptoms Associated With Nerve Pain

Like other types of chronic pain, neuropathic conditions often cause other symptoms in addition to pain. If you have any of the following in addition to the pain described above, you may have nerve damage:

  • Partial or complete loss of feeling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Partial or complete paralysis
  • Changes in skin appearance and texture
  • Muscle disuse atrophy
  • Depression and/or anxiety

Common Treatments For Nerve Pain

Neuropathic pain is often treated with adjuvant analgesics, such as antidepressants and anticonvulsants.

However, other medications may also be used to treat chronic nerve pain. These include NSAIDs, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which are traditional pain killers opioids and corticosteroids.

Other treatments may be used for chronic nerve pain as well, such as physical therapy or nerve blocks, which are performed by injecting chemicals or anesthetics to the area, or by deliberately cutting or damaging certain parts of the nerve.

This multi-modal treatment approach can keep nerve pain symptoms under better control.

More Chronic Nerve Pain Resources

For more resources for living with chronic nerve pain, be sure to check out these great articles:

Causes of Chronic Neuropathic Pain

8 Common Types of Chronic Neuropathic Pain

How to Cope With Chronic Pain

How to Use a Pain Journal for Chronic Pain

Sources:

National Pain Foundation. Neuropathic Pain: Symptoms. Accessed 2/2/10.

The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. Neuropathic Pain. Accessed 2/2/10.

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