Nerve pain is known in medical conditions as neuropathic pain. It's a pain that is caused by the abnormal function of nerves. It's different from conventional or 'normal' pain which is called nociceptive pain which is caused by damage to body tissues. For many sufferers of pain, there is a mix of both neuropathic and nociceptive pain.


Nerve pain has often been described as:

  • a burning feeling
  • numbness
  • insects crawling under the skin
  • water running over the skin
  • walking on glass
  • shooting or stabbing pain
  • pins and needles

Sometimes it only takes the lightest touch to the skin to set off a painful episode.


The purpose of nerves is to deliver messages from one part of the body to another. When there is nerve pain, the nerves have become over-excited and over-stimulated by the transmission of the messages. The distorted messages are interpreted by the brain as pain. Think of it as a switch that's not working properly. Say you have a lightbulb and it flickers on and off all the time: the connection between the lightbulb and the socket isn't being made properly and this is similar to a problem with the nerve paths.


Common causes of nerve pain include:

  • diabetic neuropathy: diabetes can, over time, cause nerve damage
  • sciatic nerve pain: a tingling or numb sensation caused by irritation to the nerve roots that lead to the sciatic nerve which comes out of the spinal cord into the lower back
  • pinched nerve pain: these can occur anywhere in the body. It's usually caused when too much pressure is applied to a nerve by tissues such as bones, cartilage, tendons or muscles. Sciatica is a type of pinched nerve pain. Carpal tunnel syndrome is another type of pinched nerve pain.
  • ulnar nerve pain: the ulnar nerve is better known as the 'funny bone' and the tingling down the arm of ulnar neuropathic pain is often called 'hitting the funny bone'. Serious ulnar nerve pain is often caused by a fracture or dislocation of the elbow
  • facial nerve pain (trigeminal neuralgia): this is pain in the face that comes and goes. It's so painful in some cases that sufferers might suffer from depression as a result. Most cases of trigeminal neuralgia are limited to one side of the face and more women over 50 years old are effected than any other age group. The full cause is not know but some cases are linked to multiple sclerosis and other diseases of the central nervous system
  • post-herpectic neuralgia: is a pain that can persist after a shingles outbreak. Shingles usually clear up after a few weeks but the pain that occurs afterwards is called postherpectic neuralgia.
  • phantom limb pain: pain that occurs after amputation in the area that feels like missing body part


Neuropathic pain is quite difficult to treat and it is often resistant to the usual painkillers. The first step is to see a pain specialist. It's important to recognize the pain in the first place as nerve pain rather than 'normal' pain. Inappropriate treatment in the first place that delay proper treatment which may cause the pain to become chronic. Pain management doctors can provide a more aggressive form of early neuropathic pain treatment.


Pain management doctors can treat nerve pain with:

  • Special drugs from the anti-convulsant and anti-depression families can provide pain relief and calm the nerves down, which allow them to heal.
  • Nerve blocks: these are injection of numbing medication around the nerves themselves. These interrupt the stream of 'pain' messages that transmit up to the brain. This allows the over-excited nervous system to 'reset' itself