Neuralgia means “nerve pain”, but its true definition and diagnosis is much more complicated than this simple answer. Etymologically, neuralgia is the combination of the greek words for “nerve” and “pain”, neuros and algos, respectively.
However people can experience all kinds of neuralgia, all with different underlying causes. The symptoms associated with nerve pain can also vary wildly from one patient to another. For example, one person may experience pain their sciatic nerve as a burning sensation, whereas another may feel an incredibly sharp lightning that arcs down through their legs and over the tops of their feet.
Neuralgia is so broad a term that giving a singular definition for it is nearly impossible. However, for patients who are living with some kind of nerve pain to better cope with their condition, it’s important to understand what they’re dealing with and what treatment options are out there. In order to begin seeking treatment for your neuralgia, you must first understand the different causes of nerve pain. Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of neuralgia:
Viral neuralgias either present as fleeting episodes or chronic pain that is caused by a virus attacking the body. One of the most common kinds of viral neuralgia is known as post-herpetic neuralgia, abbreviated as PHN. This condition causes pain the genitals themselves or the surrounding areas of the body such as the buttocks, perineum or thighs and legs and are related to nerve damage caused by viruses of the herpes family.
Herpetic viruses are particularly vicious because they can encyst, or encapsulate, themselves in the roots of our nerves, and its this unique reproductive method that makes these viruses so resistant to drug-based treatments. Even when we eradicate the current generation of the virus that is causing symptoms, there are still dormant future generations lurking at the base of our nerves, waiting to spring out at a later date. This is why it’s nearly impossible to cure herpes entirely.
When viruses of this family, as well as those of some other related families, burrow into our nerve roots, they cause damage to them, which can later lead to PHN. Patients suffering from post-herpetic neuralgia will, most commonly, first experience an initial tingling throughout the affected areas. This becomes a strong indication that veteran suffers of herpes can identify as foretelling an outbreak. In a few days, the tingling sensations may give way to full-on stabbing and shooting pains. This is the worst of the neuralgia and will most often lessen in intensity during the course of an outbreak and, in general, it will abate in intensity over the course of a patient’s life.
Physical Insults And Injuries Resulting In Neuralgia
The role of our nerves is to transmit information related to our physical orientation and to facilitate nociception (the perception of pain). It’s only natural, then, that severe injuries such as blunt force traumas and puncture wounds can physically damage our nerves and disrupt their normal function.
Damaged nerves can cause intense pain at the time of injury, such as when a leg or arm is broken or when a burn or cut damages body tissues. However, injured nerves can persist in sending intense pain signals even long after an injury has healed.
The most common examples of such phenomena include the phantom limb pains experienced by amputees or victims of devastating car accidents. Burn victims also report that they sometimes experience lingering nerve pain even after the damaged tissue has stabilized following the incident.
Another physical cause of neuralgia is related to pressure and strain. Sometimes other entities within the body can grow or swell and, in so doing, put varying degrees of pressure on nearby nerves. A tumor is an excellent example of something that can crop up in a nerve rich area and wreak havoc as it grows. Tumor in the cheek or along the jaw, for example, are often the culprits of trigeminal neuralgia. As they press against the trigeminal nerve, patients will experience burning, stabbing or shooting pains or extreme sensitivity to air and touch.
The more badly mangled a nerve is, the more intense the pain is likely to be and the more intractable the condition. In these situations, patients are advised to work closely with their doctors to develop a pain-management regiment that will allow them to function properly throughout the day while also keeping their discomfort at a tolerable level. Medication, physical therapy, meditation and relaxation techniques can all be helpful when it comes to managing nerve pain resulting from physical injury.
Depending on the type of injury that originally led to chronic nerve pain, these treatments will have varying levels of success for each patient. Most people that suffer from nerve pain that is severe enough to make a daily negative impact on their quality of life will likely wind up using some combination of medication, physical therapy and relaxation or meditation techniques.
Psychological And Psychosomatic Nerve Pain
So what about all the people that are walking around in legitimate agony that does not have an identifiable physical cause and that is not the result of a current or past illness? Now we enter the realm of psychological neuralgia, meaning nerve pain that is caused by an abnormality or problem in the mind. This is not to dismiss these conditions out of hand; quite the contrary.
Patients who suffer from psychosomatic pain are often the most burdened by their conditions because in addition to excruciating pain they must also endure the frustration of being constantly doubted by their friends, loved ones and, sometimes, even their doctors.
To say that pain is generated in the mind or the cause of an emotional disorder is not to say that it doesn’t hurt. Traumatic and tragic events can leave real long-lasting scars on our psyches that manifest in a myriad of ways. Some people that live through a horrible car accident will spend the rest of their lives tensing and flinching every time they hear a vehicle skid to a halt.
People that starved when they were young or could not afford food often become so totally obsessed with obtaining and consuming food in their later lives that they never really stop eating and become obese because of emotional and psychological deprivations that cannot be satisfied by another meal.
Getting a proper diagnosis for psychosomatic conditions that result in intermittent or chronic pain can be very difficult and trying, especially when you don’t have sufficient medical coverage. In some cases, working through the initial psychic blockage and trauma, either under the care of a medical health professional or on your own terms, will ultimately alleviate the pain. In others, the best course of action is to try to attain some degree of stability and daily comfort through exercise, if possible, or mind-focusing techniques like meditation.