Affecting up to four million people in the United States, chronic neuropathic pain is a type of pain relating to the nerves. It is more difficult to diagnose and treat than other kinds of chronic pain and comes about when there is damage or dysfunction to the nerves, spinal cord or brain. This damage could result from nerve damage, nervous system diseases, swelling, nerve compression or tiny bundles called neuromas. Diabetes is a common cause of neuropathic pain. Pain following an outbreak of shingles—called postherpetic neuralgia—is a serious neuropathic pain problem, especially in the elderly. For as many as 30% of cases, however, the cause is unknown. The pain related to nerves is very specific. It can be sharp, burning or stabbing. It may occur primarily around a dysfunctional area or it can travel through the nerve to various parts of the body (referred pain).
In addition to the pain, a person can also experience tingling, numbness, weakness and pain from a simple light touch to the skin. Clearly, neuropathic pain can be very debilitating to sufferers and, if left untreated, can lead to depression. Medications used to treat neuropathic pain include adjuvant drugs (antidepressants and antiseizure medicines), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids, corticosteroids and nerve blocks. Seeing a physical therapist soon after your pain is diagnosed is vital to learning how to manage the pain and function in your daily activities. We can work with your physician to complement any medication you may already be taking. Treatment incorporates a broad range of tools, such as strengthening exercises, psychological support and techniques to improve range of motion. For those with significant pain, even light exercises and stretching can provide improved function and reduced pain. Manual therapies and therapeutic massage, along with electrical stimulation where appropriate, may be added to your customized program to alleviate painful muscle spasms. Neuropathic pain, especially when chronic, can be a major challenge. A regular physical therapy program that we can devise may help you to successfully cope and feel more like yourself again.