September is Pain Awareness Month: an observance meant to educate people about different types of pain, the deeper problems that these sensations can indicate, and the effective treatments available today. One lesser-known issue that can affect many areas of the body is neuropathic pain. People of all ages are susceptible and should understand what it is, what causes it, and what symptoms to look out for.
What is Neuropathic Pain?
Neuropathic pain is discomfort caused by damage to the nerves that connect your skin, muscles, and other parts of the body to the brain and spinal cord. When nerve damage or injury occurs, it can trigger what is often described as a burning sensation or tenderness in the affected area. This can occur anywhere on the body, as there are many different causes of nerve damage.
What Causes It?
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), causes of neuropathic pain can be linked to nerve damage from surgery, physical trauma, viral infections, cancer, vascular malformations, alcohol use disorder, neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis, and metabolic conditions such as diabetes.
Other causes of neuropathic pain include:
- Side effects of medications
- Loss of limbs
- Vitamin B deficiency
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Thyroid issues
- Hormonal imbalances
- Arthritis in the spine
- Autoimmune diseases
According to NINDS, the medical term referring to conditions caused by nerve damage is peripheral neuropathy. Alcohol can play a part in causing this condition, which is often referred to as alcoholic peripheral neuropathy. This is characterized by progressive peripheral nerve damage caused by chronic alcohol use.
The Science of Peripheral Neuropathy
The three types of nerves—motor, sensory, and automatic—play a key role in telling the brain when something is wrong. They also help your body function and move properly. When nerves get disrupted by diseases like substance use disorder or acute injuries, they misfire signals to the brain, causing discomfort. Different ways nerves can be disrupted include a loss of signals from nerves to the brain, inappropriate nerve signaling to the brain, and errors in nerve communication.
What Are the Symptoms of Neuropathic Pain?
Although people experience this condition differently, some common symptoms to look out for typically include burning or stabbing sensations, tingling “pins and needles,” and spontaneous pain without a distinct cause. These signs can be triggered by certain actions that are not normally painful, such as rubbing against something, standing in cold weather, or doing everyday tasks like brushing your hair.
Other symptoms that can indicate neuropathic pain include:
- Chronic unpleasant or abnormal sensations
- Trouble sleeping due to discomfort
- Emotional problems resulting from chronic pain
How is Neuropathic Pain Treated?
There are a number of different treatments for this condition, depending on the cause. For patients with underlying issues like diabetes or alcohol use disorder, doctors will recommend healthier lifestyle habits such as exercise, a balanced diet, the elimination of substance use, and the supplementation of vitamin deficiencies.
According to NINDS, medications for depression or epilepsy are often prescribed for neuropathic pain, since they can be effective in helping the brain block misplaced signals. Local anesthetics, lidocaine patches or creams, and medications are also commonly used. As a last resort, some physicians recommend surgery for severe cases.
Non-Addictive Neuropathic Pain Treatment
If you or someone you know is suffering from neuropathic pain due to conditions like alcohol use disorder, treatment is available. Contact us at Hemet Valley Recovery Center and Sage Retreat to speak with our knowledgeable admissions team.