Also called neuropathy or neuralgia, nerve pain occurs when your nerves send false signals to your brain, resulting in chronic pain. Individuals with nerve pain also may not register pain caused by an injury, which can result in other significant problems.
Nerve pain has many causes, and may not feel like other types of pain. It can flare unprompted at any time, interfering with your daily activities.
For many, nerve pain worsens at night, making it difficult to sleep. Diagnosis and an effective treatment plan are key for managing your pain and allowing you to live your life normally.
Causes of Nerve Pain
Nerve pain is typically associated with a chronic condition, although it can also occur as a result of an infection or injury. Some causes include:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Cancer treatments (chemotherapy and radiation)
- Accidents or injuries that affect the spine
- Muscle or tissue injuries
- Limb loss (phantom limb syndrome)
- Thyroid issues
- Vitamin B deficiency
Nerve Pain Symptoms
While symptoms vary from person to person, some of the most common symptoms of nerve pain include:
- Shooting, stabbing, or burning sensation
- Sensitivity to touch
- Pain that occurs without a trigger
- Pain that occurs in a situation where you wouldn’t normally expect it to, such as a fabric brushing against your skin or being out in the cold
- Loss of balance
- Trouble sleeping
Diagnosing Nerve Pain
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your physician. The doctor will likely review your medical history and ask about your symptoms.
They may then perform a physical exam, checking your tendon reflexes, muscle strength, posture, coordination, and ability to feel certain sensations.
Additional tests may be requested as well, such as:
- Blood tests, to diagnose vitamin deficiencies, diabetes, and other conditions
- Imaging tests, such as MRIs or CT scans
- Nerve function tests
- Nerve or skin biopsy
These tests help your doctor to diagnose the cause of your pain. With a proper diagnosis, your doctor can then determine the best course of treatment.
How to treat nerve pain generally depends on the underlying cause (if there is one). For instance, if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes, getting the condition under control can help. Several other treatments can help to keep your pain under control as well.
A healthy diet and regular exercise can both contribute to easing pain. These habits can also help to manage other conditions, such as diabetes.
Your physician may recommend different therapies for nerve pain, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, or the use of TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation). In some cases, such as tumors pressing on the nerves, surgery may be recommended.
Over-the-counter and prescription medications are some of the most common treatments for managing nerve pain. Oral NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help with mild pain, while prescription medications such as tramadol can be beneficial for more severe discomfort.
Topical treatments like capsaicin cream can provide modest improvements. Your physician may prescribe lidocaine patches, such as ZTlido.
These patches, which you apply to your skin, block nerves from sending pain signals, alleviating burning or stabbing sensations. They can also help to treat the nerve pain that can last months, or even years, following a shingles infection.
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