What Causes Nerve Pain?

Nerve pain, also known as neuropathic pain, is a type of pain that originates from damage or dysfunction of the nerves themselves. Nerve pain can be caused by various factors and conditions, including:

  • Injury: Physical injury, such as a traumatic accident, fall, or sports injury, can damage nerves, leading to nerve pain. In some cases, the nerve injury can be temporary, while in others, it may be long-lasting or permanent.
  • Compression: Pressure or compression on nerves can result in pain. Conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, where the median nerve in the wrist is compressed, can cause nerve pain and other symptoms.
  • Nerve Entrapment: Nerves can become entrapped or pinched as they pass through tight anatomical structures. This can cause pain and discomfort. For example, sciatic nerve pain can result from the nerve becoming entrapped or compressed as it exits the spine.
  • Nerve Diseases: Certain diseases and conditions can damage or affect the nerves, leading to nerve pain. Examples include diabetes (diabetic neuropathy), multiple sclerosis, and Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome.
  • Infection: Some infections can affect nerves and cause pain. Conditions like shingles (herpes zoster) are characterized by nerve pain along the affected nerve’s pathway.
  • Autoimmune Disorders: Autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, can lead to inflammation of the nerves and result in neuropathic pain.
  • Toxic Exposure: Exposure to toxins, chemicals, or heavy metals can damage nerves and cause pain. For example, exposure to certain chemotherapy drugs can lead to chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy.
  • Nerve Degeneration: As people age, nerve fibers can naturally degenerate, leading to pain and discomfort. Conditions like age-related degeneration, or peripheral neuropathy, can result from nerve degeneration.
  • Herniated Discs: When the gel-like substance inside a spinal disc leaks out and presses on a nerve, it can cause radiating pain and discomfort.
  • Nutritional Deficiencies: Inadequate levels of certain vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B12, can lead to nerve damage and neuropathic pain.
  • Alcohol and Substance Abuse: Excessive alcohol consumption and substance abuse can damage nerves and result in neuropathic pain.
  • Cancer: Some cancers and cancer treatments can cause nerve pain. For example, tumors pressing on nerves or chemotherapy-induced neuropathy are common causes.
  • Post-Surgical Complications: Nerve damage can occur as a complication of surgery. This is more likely to happen in procedures near nerves or when there is accidental nerve injury during surgery.

Nerve pain is often described as sharp, shooting, burning, tingling, or electric shock-like sensations. It can be challenging to manage and may require a multidisciplinary approach involving healthcare providers, pain specialists, physical therapists, and sometimes medications to address the underlying cause and manage the pain effectively. Treatment options may include pain management strategies, physical therapy, medication, or, in some cases, surgery to correct the underlying issue causing the nerve pain.