Have you experienced a shooting pain down the arm, leg, or neck at some point in your life? Electric sensations can be a rather unnerving incident that we’d prefer not to experience all too soon again.
But, what is that odd and painful experience? What if it happens over and over again?
Today we’ll explore the two most common nerve pains and their causes, methods of averting nerve pain, and factors to keep in mind that influence pain response.
The Most Common Types of Nerve Pain
To begin, nerves are cord-like structures with the primary function of conducting electrical impulses throughout the body.
This allows a relay of information from one part of the body to another depending on the type of nerves that are sending the message.
Below is a visual representation of how the nerve cells function or communicate amongst each other when skin irritation occurs:
Damage to these particular cells can cause an overwhelming pain response in the moment.
The most common types of nerve pain and their associated symptoms are:
(Nerve/neuro- Pain/-algia, essentially pain in a nerve pathway)
- A sharp shocking mild-to-severe pain.
- Follows the path of the affected nerve.
- Set off by irritation or damage to a nerve.
- The causes can be attributed to direct trauma or underlying disease though the cause may not always be apparent.
- Possible causes:
- Infections, including shingles, West Nile virus, Lyme disease, HIV
- Pressure on the nerves from blood vessels, bones, chronically tense muscles, or (rarely) tumors
- Trauma / Collision / Physical Impact
- General inflammation
- Gout (a complex and painful form of arthritis)
- Surgical Procedures
(aka, “my arm fell asleep” or “I hit my funny bone”)
- Sensations include:
- ‘pins and needles’ feeling
- Typically caused by excess or static pressure on a nerve, or poor circulation
- Usually temporary and harmless
- If it becomes a chronic problem this may indicate a medical condition or neuropathy (nerve damage) due to:
- Accident / Injury
- Stroke / Mini-Stroke
- Radiculopathy, or a compressed nerve root
- Multiple Sclerosis
Due to the temporary nature of paresthesia, it is not often diagnosed, but under the advisement of a doctor, you can get a blood test, X-ray, or MRI scan to help find the origin of this sensation if it happens frequently.
Neuralgia can be diagnosed through nerve conduction tests, lab tests (glucose test, thyroid panel, vitamin tests, specific tests for autoimmune disorders), imaging scans (ie: electromyography, ultrasound, CT/MRI scan), and even nerve biopsy.
Although shooting pains are usually temporary and disappear within a few days, they don’t always signify a pinched nerve. At times trigger points will cause pain patterns that are seemingly nerve-related. See the video below for a bit of insight:
How to Avoid Nerve Pain
Although in many cases neuropathy is irreversible or cannot be completely healed, treatment exists and can help to reduce symptoms.
Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing regular bouts of nerve pain. Time is of the essence as nerve damage is progressive—the sooner you speak with your doctor about the symptoms you’re experiencing, the more likely you’ll avoid any irreparable damage if that is the case.
- Vitamin B & D
- Lack of Vitamin B can lead to significant nerve damage
- Lack of Vitamin D can cause neuropathy pain
- Quit smoking
- Decreased blood circulation narrows the blood vessels and lessens the amount of oxygenated blood
- Warm baths
- Increases blood circulation, decreasing symptoms from numbness
- Can be soothing and alleviating
- Exercise / Regular Movement
- Activity reduces your blood sugar, decreasing or slowing down nerve damage
- Increases blood flow
- Reduces stress
- An opportunity to shift our perspective
- Can help to keep calm, lowering stress levels
- Ongoing practice can improve coping skills and sharpen our focus so we can decrease pain
What Influences Nerve Pain?
Pain is multidimensional. In addition to this, no two humans experience anything on earth in the same way because we are so unique in our wiring and in our minds. How you feel pain is a personal and varied experience.
Many parents know of the pain from stepping on a Lego brick, but what we chemically and psychologically go through when pain strikes differ from person to person.
The extent or intensity of our pain is influenced by:
- Overall physical health
- Sensory and cognitive factors
- Vitamin deficiency
- Daily /ongoing activities
- Emotional state, fluctuating or extreme
- Past experiences shaping our expectations
- Thought process
- Surrounding environments
Heightened anxiety and low moods paired with acute or chronic pain can decrease cognitive and physical function, leading to an increase in suffering. It is a great idea to maintain a pain log describing what and how you feel, when you feel it, and if there were any significant events or conversations leading up to your pain event.
Keeping track of your pain, your moods, and even discussions and events can help unearth any patterns that could be exacerbating or contributing to your pain.
Our relationship with ourselves is the only permanent relationship we have, so take care of yourself!
Once you take the first step towards improving your quality of life, we’ll be here to hold you accountable as you work through your treatment plan.
– Lex Alvarado
Lex Alvarado has over 14 years of experience working with patients, collaborating care to improve pain and posture. She is certified in Active Release Technique (ART) and neuromuscular massage (CNMT) and is a Board certified massage therapist (CAMTC).