Your body is made up of a complex system of nerves that convey information to the brain. It is rather like a wired computer network in relaying information such as pain, location, and temperature from the rest of the body.
The nervous system is composed of the brain, spinal cord that runs down through the vertebrae in the back, and the nerves that branch off of the cord like a tree.
Your body has several different types of nerves and damage to specific ones cause different problems.
- Motor nerves control the functioning of the muscles
- Sensory nerves pick up pain, pressure, and temperature changes
- Autonomic nerves control digestion, heartbeat, and breathing.
Any of them can break down and cause nerve pain in your body.
Many causes can create nerve pain in your extremities. One of the most common causes of nerve pain is compression of the nerve, usually from a disk in your back or neck. The disk is a pad of jelly-like material that can rupture and impinge upon the nerve. When the nerve is damaged in this way, it causes pain where ever the nerve travels.
For instance, when the sciatic nerve is impinged where it starts off the spinal cord, the pain travels down the leg, along the pathway of the nerve.
Other causative factors for nerve pain include autoimmune diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis), trauma that directly affects a nerve, and cancer. Diabetes is a well-known cause of nerve pain because the high sugar levels in the bloodstream damage the nerves of the feet and hands.
It can also damage autonomic nerves, causing constipation and an inability to recognize chest pain from a heart attack.
Some medications can lead to nerve damage and pain, and nutritional deficiencies, such as a lack of key B vitamins, can irreversibly impact the nerves and cause pain.
The symptoms of nerve pain depend on the particular type of nerve that is damaged by whatever causative means. If your motor nerves are affected, you could experience weakness in your limbs, twitching, and paralysis. If autonomic nerves are damaged, your experience would be different. In this case, you would experience lightheadedness, dry mouth, constipation, trouble controlling your bladder, sexual dysfunction, too much or too little sweating, and an inability to feel chest pain.
What you experience depends on what nerve is damaged and what part of the body that nerve serves.
The most common experience of nerve pain stems from damage to the sensory nerves. These are the nerves that cause the most pain when damaged, and can lead doctors to discovering the other, more subtle symptoms of nerve damage or impingement. With this type of nerve damage, you would experience pain, overly sensitive skin, numbness, tingling, burning, and difficulty sensing where your limb is in space.
It is not uncommon for people with nerve damage to experience problems with all three types of nerves, since the nerves usually are located close to each other.
Treatment of nerve pain is often tricky. Once a nerve is damaged, it is like a light switch has been turned on and stuck there. It is hard to convince the brain that it is not receiving the stimulation the nerves are insisting upon.
One way to treat nerve pain is to remove the damaging or compressing agent. In the case of sciatica, the disk that is impinging on the nerve can be removed and the nerve can heal.
However, surgery does not always result in a decrease in pain because the nerve may be irreversibly damaged.
Some medications are currently available to help with nerve pain. Research studies have shown that certain anti-depressants and anti-seizure medications are effective in switching off the pain from damaged nerves.
Of course, keeping your blood sugar in check if you are a diabetic will help reduce the amount of nerve damage, but it may not decrease the pain. For autoimmune diseases and nutritional related nerve damage, the solution may be as simple as a supplement or a steroid medication.
In most cases, though, nerve pain remains, though treatment keeps if from getting worse.
A few alternative treatments are known to be effective in relieving nerve pain. Acupuncture and biofeedback are just two of the methods that can help lessen your pain and switch the nerve off. You can also participate in a hypnosis session or engage in meditation to assist your brain in ignoring the false messages.
Whatever road you choose, don’t stop trying with one treatment modality, as sometimes a combination of methods works to stop your nerves from nurting.
Sometimes it takes a mixture of approaches to find something that works for you, and we can help find the best method for your specific nerve condition.
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