Nerve Pain and Nerve Pain Relief
What is nerve pain?
What is nerve pain? Nerve pain hurts – a lot. I have nerve pain, and it sometimes renders me practically helpless. It often comes out of the blue and attacks by stealth, when I least expect it. Nerve pain is difficult to describe, but if you ever experience it, you’ll never forget it. I’ll do my best to describe it for you: In my case, nerve pain hurts and burns at the same time. It also tingles. As I told one of my physicians, it’s like “an electric toothache.” The doc said he thought that was the perfect description for this type of pain. It can be extremely intense, and it’s something you can’t escape. Oftentimes, with muscle pain, you can get into a different position or rest the affected area to at least somewhat subdue the ache. You can’t do that with nerve pain. Sometimes the only way to get nerve pain relief is to take enough prescription pain meds to “knock yourself out,” so to speak. I don't do this, however, unless I'm desperate.
Before you read any further, I want to make it clear that I’m not a physician. I’m a retired teacher. I’m sharing with you my personal experiences, what I’ve been told by my healthcare team, and what I’ve learned through research. This article primarily focuses on nerve pain from compression, along with different forms of nerve pain relief I’ve tried.
Types of Nerve Pain and Nerve Damage
There are many different types of nerve pain. Most of mine is compression nerve pain, including hand pain from severe carpal tunnel syndrome, shoulder pain, and lower back pain, or sciatic nerve pain. My shoulder pain and lower back pain are both caused by foraminal stenosis. In other words, the “holes” where the nerves exit the spine are too small, due to inflammation and bone growing where it shouldn’t be growing. As a result, the affected nerves are squeezed, resulting in pain. This is often referred to as a pinched nerve, or as an impinged nerve.
Where the nerve pain occurs depends on which nerves are compressed. For example, my shoulder pain is caused by an impinged nerve on the left side of my cervical spine. The pain starts in my neck and results in shoulder pain and pain, tingling, and numbness that runs down my left arm. My lower back pain is sciatic nerve pain, caused by an impinged nerve on the right side of my lumbar spine.
Other types of nerve pain and damage can involve the bladder, the bowels, the genitals, the sweat glands, or the tear ducts. Diabetic neuropathy is a fairly common form of nerve pain and damage.
Shoulder pain and shoulder nerve pain relief
My left shoulder doesn’t hurt all the time, but when it does, it can be excruciating. I have a TENS unit, and sometimes it will help a little with the shoulder pain. It never stops the nerve pain in my neck and shoulder, but sometimes the TENS machine will “knock the edge off” the pain. On the other hand, sometimes the TENS unit has absolutely no effect. I also have an over-the-door traction device which sometimes helps. I jokingly refer to this as “hanging myself.” This device lifts my neck and stretches my cervical spine, allowing the nerves there to have more room. Sometimes aspirin will help alleviate the pain, due to its anti-inflammatory properties, I assume. I’ve tried physical therapy, but it was so painful that my doctor recommended I not continue. At times I’m forced to turn to narcotic pain relievers, but I do this as seldom as possible.
Sciatic nerve pain
What is sciatic nerve pain? Sciatic nerve pain, often called sciatica, often begins with lower back pain. From there, it usually travels through the affected buttock and down the leg. The sciatic nerve is big – the largest in the body. It’s connected to the skin of the leg, several muscles, and the hip joint. It begins in the lumbar spine at L4 and continues through the sacrum to S3.
Like most lower back pain and sciatic nerve pain, mine is caused by compression of the nerve where it exits the lumbar spine. Some sitting positions, standing, and walking can all trigger the pain. In my case, sciatic nerve pain is a shooting pain, but the pain isn’t always the same. Sometimes it includes numbness and tingling, along with some rather strange sensations. A few times, my sciatic nerve pain was accompanied by the feeling of water dripping down my thigh.
Sciatic nerve pain treatment
There are several things you can do at home for sciatic nerve pain treatment. Sometimes heat makes mine feel better, and this includes using a heating pad or one of those stick-on pads. Sometimes I bend over as far as possible under my shower massage and keep the water as hot as I can stand it. For some people, ice packs seem to help, but this isn’t the case with my sciatic nerve pain. Sometimes aspiring helps. I’ve also received cortisone shots and epidural injections, which provided short-term relief. As with my shoulder pain, my TENS unit will sometimes take away the worst of the pain, but not often. Oftentimes, if I lie on my back with my knees elevated, the pain will ease. The same goes for getting in just the right position in my recliner. This is a good sciatic nerve pain treatment for me because it causes the vertebrae in my lumbar spine to spread, providing more room for the nerves. When all else fails, I reach for my prescription pain medications.
Nerve pain and Cymbalta
I was prescribed Cymbalta several years ago for panic attacks and for nerve pain. It worked like a charm for the panic attacks, but I didn’t think it was having any effect on my nerve pain. One day my supply of Cymbalta ran out before I had a chance to refill it, and I was in agony for a whole day. At the time, I didn’t connect the lack of Cymbalta with the nerve pain. After it happened a few more times over several years, however, the same thing always happened – more nerve pain than usual. There has to be a connection.
Drugs for nerve pain
If you’re experiencing frequent nerve pain, see your doctor. If the shoulder pain, neck pain, or lower back pain is from compression, he’ll most likely suggest several methods of nerve pain relief. He’ll probably begin with the safest treatments first. If all these fail, he might prescribe prescription pain meds for you. PLEASE take these sparingly!
I highly recommend this for two reasons. For one, these drugs might be highly addictive. I’ve seen the effects of prescription drug addiction firsthand, with friends and relatives, and it’s not a pretty sight. Secondly, your body might get used to the drugs, and over time, it will take more and more of the medication to help ease your nerve pain. I don’t want either of these to happen to me, so I follow a simple philosophy. When my nerve pain attacks, I always start with the least treatment options. If, and only if, all these fail do I reach for the narcotics. Even then, I take a very small amount. I don’t try to be completely free of nerve pain – I just try to get it to a level that I can live with.