Did you know that 15 to 20 million Americans suffer from some form of nerve pain? Although anyone can experience this, it’s more common in people over 60. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to manage or even prevent nerve pain, including stretching exercises for sciatica. Here’s everything you need to know!
What is Nerve Pain?
Nerve pain (sometimes referred to as neuropathic pain) occurs when there is damage or dysfunction in the nervous system. Most people describe their symptoms as either burning, tingling, shooting, or stabbing. Other symptoms, such as numbness or weakness, can sometimes accompany nerve pain.
In some cases, nerve pain can be debilitating and affect your quality of life if left unaddressed. Although it’s difficult to treat, your healthcare provider can develop an effective plan to help you manage discomfort after getting an accurate diagnosis.
Common causes of nerve pain include:
- Certain conditions (diabetes, multiple sclerosis, etc.)
- Certain infections (shingles, HIV/AIDS)
- Chemotherapy treatment for cancer
- Trauma or injury
How is Nerve Pain Diagnosed?
Your doctor will perform a series of tests and gather images to determine what’s causing your nerve pain. They may examine you for nerve damage by checking your reflexes, testing your muscle strength, and seeing how sensitive you are to touch. They may also need to gather some blood tests to check your overall health or recommend a CT or MRI scan to see if anything is pressing on a nerve.
Nerve disorders can be hard to diagnose because the symptoms often require thorough and careful examination. Some people may even go years without understanding why they’re experiencing muscle pain or weakness. When getting evaluated for nerve conditions, make sure to give your doctor your complete medical history so they can identify any underlying conditions that may cause nerve pain.
Common Types of Nerve Pain
People can experience several types of nerve pain. Getting an accurate diagnosis can help determine the cause of your pain and help your healthcare provider create the best treatment plan. Below are some of the common types of nerve pain people may experience:
Sciatica describes the uncomfortable symptoms that occur when the sciatic nerve becomes compressed, pinched, or otherwise irritated. This nerve is the largest in the body, running from the lower back through the hips, buttocks, and down each leg. People generally experience sciatica on one side of the body.
Central Pain Syndrome (CPS)
CPS occurs when there is damage or dysfunction to the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. People may experience CPS after a brain injury or conditions impacting the brain or spinal cord. A common occurrence in people with CPS is a change in temperature sensitivity, and pain may worsen by touch or movement.
People may experience this type of nerve pain from complications of diabetes. When your blood sugar is chronically high, it can cause damage to your nerves and lead to nerve pain. The best way to prevent diabetic neuropathy from progressing is to manage your blood sugar levels through proper diet, exercise, and medication.
Compression mononeuropathy is a condition that causes damage to a single nerve or nerve group. This often occurs when constant or excessive pressure is put on a median nerve. People may also experience compression mononeuropathy from repetitive motion stress or an injury from a fall or accident.
Some common examples of compression mononeuropathy include:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome
- Unilateral foot drop
- Ulnar nerve dysfunction
Phantom Limb Syndrome
Phantom limb syndrome can often occur after amputation, causing a person to continue feeling pressure, touch, or temperature (referred to as phantom pain or phantom sensations) in a missing limb. Phantom limb syndrome is a complex condition that affects people differently. It can even be chronic and debilitating for some people.
Phantom limb syndrome is caused by changes in the brain and spinal cord that occur after an amputation. The brain continues to receive signals from the nerves that previously controlled the amputated limb. These signals are interpreted as coming from the missing limb, and the brain creates the illusion of it still being there.
How to Manage Nerve Pain
Managing nerve pain often involves a combination of different approaches. Not everyone may respond the same way to certain treatments, so it’s essential to work with a professional so they can determine the best plan for you.
Below are some common ways to manage nerve pain:
Making a few lifestyle changes can help maintain nerve health. Certain activities, such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, can be harmful over time and lead to nerve pain. Excess weight is also one of the leading causes of certain types of nerve pain, including sciatica. Remaining active, maintaining a healthy diet, limiting alcohol, and quitting smoking can all help prevent nerve damage.
Several types of medications are available to help manage nerve pain. Over-the-counter pain relievers are ideal for helping with mild symptoms, and your healthcare provider can prescribe something stronger for severe pain. Medication should be used in conjunction with other treatment options for the best results.
Talk to your healthcare provider about medication to manage your nerve pain. Each medication may have potential side effects and risks. Make sure to bring up any concerns or unpleasant symptoms to your doctor so they can reevaluate your treatment plan.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
People often turn to complementary and alternative therapies to help relieve nerve pain and improve their overall well-being. Make sure to speak to a healthcare professional before trying anything new. A few types of alternative therapies include:
- Herbal remedies
- Assisted stretching
Surgery should be a last resort for managing unbearable nerve pain. Trauma or injuries that result in nerve damage often require surgical treatment to reduce pain. Your healthcare provider will determine the best option for you based on the underlying cause and your symptoms. Surgery can involve anything from nerve grafts to regenerate the nerve ends or an implantable device that sends electrical impulses to the brain and spinal cord.
Manage Nerve Pain with Stretching and Exercises
- Exercise can reduce and help manage nerve pain as well. Here are 4 exercises to try:
- Go for a walk, around 30mins each day 3-5 days a week with 20minutes of stretching before
- Low-impact aerobic exercises such as swimming or cycling
- Resistance Training
- Stretches such as seated glute stretch or sitting spinal stretch.
Nerve pain doesn’t have to disrupt your quality of life. Once you determine what’s causing this discomfort, you can work with your doctor to help you find the best treatment!