What is neuropathic pain?

Neuropathic pain can result after damage or dysfunction of the nervous system. Pain can rise from any level of the nervous system. These levels are the peripheral nerves, spinal cord, and brain. Pain centers receive the wrong signals from the damaged nerve fibers. Nerve function may change at the site of the nerve damage, as well as areas in the central nervous system (central sensitization).

Neuropathy is a disturbance of function or a change in one or several nerves. About 30% of neuropathy cases is caused by diabetes. It is not always easy to tell the source of the neuropathic pain. There are hundreds of diseases that are linked to this kind of pain.

What are some of the sources of neuropathic pain?

  • Alcoholism
  • Amputation (results in phantom pain)
  • Chemotherapy drugs (Cisplatin®, Paclitaxel®, Vincristine®, etc.)
  • Radiation therapy
  • Complex regional pain syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • Facial nerve problems
  • HIV infection or AIDS
  • Shingles
  • Spinal nerve compression or inflammation
  • Trauma or surgeries with resulting nerve damage
  • Nerve compression or infiltration by tumors
  • Central nervous system disorders (stroke, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, etc.)

What are the symptoms of neuropathic pain?

Many symptoms may be present in the case of neuropathic pain. These symptoms include:

  • Spontaneous pain (pain that comes without stimulation): Shooting, burning, stabbing, or electric shock-like pain; tingling, numbness, or a “pins and needles” feeling
  • Evoked pain: Pain brought on by normally non-painful stimuli such as cold, gentle brushing against the skin, pressure, etc. This is called allodynia. Evoked pain also may mean the increase of pain by normally painful stimuli such as pinpricks and heat. This type of pain is called hyperalgesia.
  • An unpleasant, abnormal sensation whether spontaneous or evoked (dysesthesia)
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Emotional problems due to disturbed sleep and pain
  • Pain that may be lessened in response to a normally painful stimulus (hypoalgesia)