Defining Neuropathic Pain
There’s discomfort…and then there’s Pain! Intense, throbbing, persistent. The mysterious thing about peripheral neuropathy is that the pain associated with it varies in kind and intensity, from one person to another. According to the experts, nerve pain indications can include mere tingling or numbness, up to and including even more unpleasant signs of a serious problem: movement impairment, loss of balance or position sense, breathing difficulties and sexual dysfunction.
Which do you have? How intense are the sensations? Pinpointing these factors can help your medical professionals define what is going on with the nerves in your lower extremities.
What does it feel like?
Neuropathic pain can be hard to define. It can be sharp, stabbing and strike every so often, or it can feel like a constant burning sensation. In other sufferers, it be a tingling or prickling, or dull, diffuse, and ever present. (Or it can be a combination of some--or all--of these). However it occurs, it’s a condition that should be reported to your doctor.
Where does it hurt?
In general, neuropathic pain is felt in the lower extremities: basically, the feet and hands. It can be just the toes, or radiate throughout the foot and/or hand.
What causes it?
What makes a peripheral neuropathy diagnosis so confounding for its sufferers is that modern medicine has pinpointed up to 100-plus possible causes of peripheral neuropathy, from alcoholism to leprosy—but by far, diabetes is thought to be the most common reason the symptoms appear. (See Neuropathy Research Blog: Common Causes of Peripheral Neuropathy)
The physical basis for what’s happening in your body rests in realm of the nerves in your hands and feet. There are terminals known as “receptors” at the end of the nerve fibers that run throughout your body. The sensory receptors and the nerves themselves are the ones receiving and transmitting signals of feeling and touch. If these get damaged or degraded by a number of diseases or conditions, the result can be motor weakness, abnormal sensations, and pain.
The science for a theory that neuropathic pain can have a psychological basis has also been suggested, due to the discovery that nerve impulses generating chronic pain travel a different pathway than acute pain. These impulses pass through the brain’s thalamus where emotions are controlled, and therefore, the theory is that stress, upset, or depression can affect the intensity of pain and make it worse.
Is there a cure?
The general consensus is that neuropathic pain is subject to control, and in some cases, nerve regeneration, but a solid diagnosis by a medical professional is the first step on the road to feeling better and reducing painful symptoms.
Source: Numb Toes and Aching Soles: Coping with Peripheral Neuropathy, John A. Senneff , MedPress. 1999.