Pain that has lasted for longer than 3 months is called chronic or persistent pain. In many cases of persistent pain, there is no clear explanation about why the pain remains after so long and this can lead to feelings of frustration and despair. Pain that won't go away may be nerve pain.1
What is nerve pain?
Nerve pain may be a chronic condition that develops gradually and worsens over an extended period of time.1,2
Nerve pain or neuropathic pain is pain that is caused by damage or disease that affects the nervous system of the body. It is caused by damage or injury to the nerves, spinal cord or the brain.3
When nerves are injured or damaged the nervous system becomes overexcited and sends spontaneous messages - impulses - through the nerves, to the spinal cord and brain. The spinal cord and the brain can then 'misinterpret' these messages as pain.3,4
Nerve pain feels different
Nerve pain is often described as feeling like burning, freezing, stabbing, shooting or electric shocks. This pain can be constant, or may come and go, and often gets worse at night. People with nerve pain may also experience strange sensations like tingling, or pins and needles.5
Nerve pain is typically restricted to a certain part of the body. For example, some of it may be restricted to the hands and feet (a "glove and stocking" pattern), or the lower back and legs, or around the site of a previous injury or surgery.6
What causes nerve pain?
There are quite a few causes of nerve damage resulting in nerve pain, including medical conditions such as diabetes and infections such as shingles. However, often the causes of the damage are not known.5
Possible causes include:
Your spine contains crucial parts of your nervous system, so any damage or injury can result in lasting pain.5
Diabetes can cause diabetic peripheral neuropathy, a condition that damages the nervous system and can cause intense and persistent pain.5
A form of deep nerve pain caused by problems with the nerves in the lower back, with pain radiating from the lower back into the hip, buttocks and leg.7
People who develop shingles, may experience pain months after the rash has healed. This is known as post herpetic neuralgia.5
Getting help for nerve pain
The best first step you can take is to speak to your GP. While there is rarely just a single person that helps with your pain, speaking to your GP opens up a multidisciplinary pain management team. They can also discuss possible treatment strategies with you.8
Because nerve pain feels different, talking to your doctor can be tricky, especially when you may not understand why you are in pain. Some people with nerve pain find it difficult to describe the type of pain they are experiencing. Try using the simple Pain Plan section of this site and share it with your doctor. You can also download and fill out the Sleep and Function Diary to give your doctor additional information.8
Make a Pain Plan today
Understanding Nerve Pain
Former Australian cricket captain, Michael Clarke, explains Nerve Pain
Michael's Pain Journey
Michael's Pain Journey
References: 1. Goucke RC, et al. Med J Aust. 2003; 178 (9): 444-447. 2. Helme RD, et al. Aust Prescr. 2006; 29: 72-5. 3. Hunter New England Area Health Service. Community Information Series: “Pain Matters: The Nature of Pain”. NSW, January 2010. 4. Merck Sharp & Dohme. Types of Pain: Merck Manual Home Editions. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/brain,-spinal-cord,-and-nerve-disorders/pain/neuropathic-pain. Accessed on 22nd Dec 2015. 5. Freynhagen R, et al. BMJ. 2009; 339:391–395. 6. Hooten WM, et al. Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement. Assessment and management of Chronic Pain, 2011 Fifth Edition. 7. MedlinePlus. Sciatic nerve. Available at: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/imagepages/19503.htm. Accessed on 22nd Dec 2015. 8. Merck Sharp & Dohme. Overview of Pain: Merck Manual Professional. Available at www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic_disorders/pain/overview_of_pain.html?qt=%22nociceptive%20pain%22&alt=sh. Accessed on 22nd Dec 2015.