Neuropathic pain can be mild or severe. It might come and go, or it might linger. Diseases like diabetes, shingles and central nervous system disorders can cause it. People with neuropathic pain might need a combination of different treatments, including medication, physical therapy, psychological counseling and surgery.
Neuropathic pain is nerve pain that can happen if your nervous system malfunctions or gets damaged. You can feel pain from any of the various levels of your nervous system, including your peripheral nerves, your spinal cord and your brain. Your central nervous system consists of your spinal cord and brain. Peripheral nerves are the ones that spread throughout the rest of your body to places likes organs, arms, legs, fingers and toes.
Damaged nerve fibers send the wrong signals to pain centers in your body, resulting in neuropathic pain. Nerve function may change at the site of nerve damage and in areas in your central nervous system (central sensitization).
Neuropathy is a disturbance of function or a change in one or several nerves. About 30% of neuropathy cases occur due to diabetes, but hundreds of other diseases — like shingles, HIV/AIDS and alcohol use disorder — can cause it, too.
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Neuropathic pain symptoms may include one or more of the following:
Causes of neuropathic pain can include:
Other causes of neuropathic pain include:
Your healthcare provider will review your medical history and do a physical exam. If your provider knows or suspects you have nerve injury, they’ll recognize typical neuropathic pain symptoms. Then they’ll try to find the underlying cause.
Neuropathic pain treatment depends on the underlying cause and what works for your unique symptoms. Your provider will create a personalized plan based on those factors.
The goals of treatment are to:
In most cases, you’ll need a combination of treatments to manage neuropathic pain. These treatments might include:
If these treatments don’t relieve neuropathic pain, your healthcare provider may recommend spinal cord stimulation, peripheral nerve stimulation or brain stimulation. Your healthcare provider can talk with you about the pros and cons of this type of treatment.
You can’t always prevent nerve pain from happening. But there are some things you can do to reduce your overall risk:
Neuropathic pain can be difficult to treat but it’s usually not life-threatening. You’ll get the best results from combining rehabilitation with support for your emotional, social and mental well-being. The goal is to manage your pain and improve your quality of life with the help of a pain specialist by using some of the methods mentioned above.
Call your healthcare provider if you develop nerve damage symptoms like:
If you have severe pain, numbness or weakness that’s quickly getting worse, you should head to your nearest emergency room. These symptoms could indicate nerve damage. Other serious symptoms may include:
People commonly describe nerve pain like a stabbing, shooting or burning sensation — kind of like an electric shock.
While there are many types of nerve pain, diabetes-related neuropathy makes up about 30% of all cases.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Neuropathic pain can wax and wane, or it can be persistent and relentless. It might be mild or severe, and it can affect any area of your body. While nerve pain isn’t usually dangerous, it can have a serious negative impact on your quality of life. If you have severe nerve pain or pain that doesn’t go away, talk to your healthcare provider. They can help you figure out what’s causing it and recommend appropriate treatment.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/13/2023.
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