Nerve pain is often associated with a process called "pain central sensitization." The nerves and brain are like wires that carry information. When they become over-stimulated with chronic pain, it may make the whole system over-excitable.
In these situations, normal touch and other usually comfortable contact can be painful. This is called allodynia.
Medications that stimulate the "calming (GABA) receptors" in the brain, such as a number of anti-seizure medications, can help settle the system and further decreases pain.
Here are the most common kinds of nerve pain:
Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN)
Postherpetic neuralgia follows a rash called herpes zoster. Often called shingles, it is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox.
The first time you get chickenpox, the virus remains in your nerve endings even after the chickenpox is gone. This usually causes no problems. If the virus re-activates in one of the nerve endings, however, it causes a rash all along the distribution of the nerve.
The rash of herpes zoster is characterized by being painful and being in a line totally on one side of the body. If it extends past the midline of your body, the rash is probably coming from something else. If the pain persists after the rash is gone, continuing for weeks to years (over one year in half of elderly patients), it is called "Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN)."
The pain tends to be burning, electric, or deep and aching. PHN affects between 500,000 and 1 million Americans—most of whom are elderly. It can severely disrupt one's life, but fortunately can now be effectively treated in most cases.
Painful Diabetic Neuropathy (PDN)
This is the most common cause of neuropathy in the U.S. Alterations in sensation are common, and the feet, which are most often affected, may feel both numb and painful at the same time.
There are many factors contributing to nerve injury in diabetes, including decreased circulation, accumulation of toxic byproducts, damage from elevated sugars, and nutritional deficiencies. There are also changes in NMDA and opiate receptors.
Research has shown that many people who are labeled as having diabetic neuropathy actually experience neuropathic pain caused by vitamin B6 or B12 deficiency.
In addition, the nutrients inositol has been shown to improve nerve function. The nutrients lipoic acid and acetyl L-carnitine have also been shown to be very helpful for diabetic and other nerve pains, but it can take 3-12 months to begin nerve healing. So give them time to work.
Neuropathic pain can also be caused by deficiencies of vitamins B12, B1, B6, D, E and zinc (all are present in the Energy Revitalization System). A number of studies have shown that different kinds of nerve pain can improve by supplementation with high dose B vitamins. Excess vitamin B6 (over 500 mg a day for years), however, can also cause neuropathy.
Vitamin D 2,000 units a day was also shown to decrease diabetic neuropathy pain by 47 percent after three months.
In patients with long-standing shingles pain, one study showed that taking 1,600 units of vitamin E (use the natural form) daily before a meal for 6 months was markedly helpful in eliminating the pain.
Another study showed that taking lower doses for less than 6 months was not effective.
Hormonal deficiencies, especially an under-active thyroid, can also cause neuropathic as well as muscular pain. A therapeutic trial of thyroid hormone is reasonable for anybody who has the symptoms of low thyroid including fatigue, cold intolerance, achiness, having low body temperatures, or unexplained inappropriate weight gain.
A pinched nerve can cause nerve pain in many places in the body. Two of the more common ones are low back pain from sciatica and pains in the hand and sometimes wrist from carpal tunnel syndrome. Sciatica usually goes away without surgery by using intravenous colchicine and carpal tunnel syndrome usually resolves after 6 to 12 weeks with vitamin B6 (250 mg a day), thyroid hormone, and wrist splints
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