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Neuropathic pain

Neuropathic pain

Also known as nerve pain and neuralgia


Neuropathic pain is defined as the shooting or burning pain as a result of nerve damage. The intensity of pain is often severe and impacts the overall quality of life. 

Conditions like brain injuries, diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, autoimmune disorders, cancer, alcoholism and use of certain medications increase the risk of neuropathic pain. 

Medications along with physiotherapy, relaxation and massage therapy, are known to improve the symptoms. 

Neuropathic pain can lead to a feeling of hopelessness or anger due its chronic nature. It can interfere with normal activities such as sleep, exercise, and sex. Surrounding oneself with friends and family along with psychological help can make one deal with the emotional aspect of the disease.

Key Facts

Usually seen in
  • Individuals between 50 to 64 years of age
Gender affected
  • Both men and women
Body part(s) involved
  • Nerves
Mimicking Conditions
  • Myelopathy
  • Radiculopathy
Necessary health tests/imaging
  • Quantitative sensory testing (QST)
  • Nerve conduction study (NCS)
  • Skin biopsy
  • Other tests: Complete blood count, Metabolic panels, Glycosylated hemoglobin (Hba1c), Vitamin and mineral ( copper, thiamine, pyridoxine, folate, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin E), Metal (Mercury, lead, and arsenic) & Urine test
Specialists to consult
  • Neurologist
  • Chronic pain physician
  • Physical therapist
  • Occupational therapist
  • Endocrinologist 
  • Rheumatologist
  • Psychiatry & addiction medicine 
  • Surgeon 
  • Oncologist

Symptoms Of Neuropathic Pain

The symptoms of neuropathic mostly start appearing after a long time of injury. It may take from several months to years. Initially, a person may experience pain in their digits which can be progressed to limbs.  

The pain may be mild or severe but often worse at night. The symptoms may persist even beyond the healing period. 

  • Spontaneous pain: It refers to the shooting, burning, stabbing, or electric shock like pain usually in the arms and legs. It feels like someone has pricked the needle on the skin. 

  • Evoked pain (allodynia): It is defined as "pain due to a stimulus that does not normally provoke pain”. Pain is experienced in normal activities such as gentle touch on the skin, buttoning the shirt, touching a cold surface, and brushing their teeth. 

  • Hyperalgesia: It refers to the increased sensitivity to pain. The brain of individuals with hyperalgesia overreacts with normal painful triggers such as pinpricks and heat.

  • Hypoalgesia: Sometimes, a person may have decreased sensitivity to pain for  normal painful triggers.

  • Loss of sensations in a part of the body

Other symptoms include:

  • Trouble in sleeping

  • Emotional problems

  • Changes in sensation

  • Weakness 

  • Muscle wasting (decrease in size of a body part or tissue)

Neuropathic pain interferes with normal activities such as sleep, exercise, and sex. It can lead to emotional problems such as:

Here are 8 natural ways to fight depression.

Types Of Neuropathic Pain

There are several types of neuropathic pain depending on different criteria. 

Neuropathic pain can be of two types according to the quantity of nerve involves:

1. Mononeuropathy

  • If the neuropathic pain is due to the damage to one nerve, it is termed as mononeuropathy. 

  • The most common example is carpal tunnel syndrome that involves the compression of a single nerve of the wrist. 

2. Polyneuropathy

  • The pain that arises due to the damage to two or more nerves is known as polyneuropathy. 

  • The development of neuropathic pain in diabetes is polyneuropathy. 

Based on the types of nerves involved, NT can be of following types:

1. Peripheral neuropathic pain

  • It affects the nerves of the peripheral nervous system (nerves that present outside the brain and spinal cord).
    Ex: Diabetic neuropathy. Uncontrolled blood sugar damages the nerves, particularly those in the toes and feet. 

2. Central neuropathic pain

  • Affects the nerves in the brain, or more specifically, the nerves that branch out from your brainstem.  

3. Autonomic neuropathic pain

  • Affects the nerves that control bodily functions, such as urination, bowel movements, heart rate, and blood pressure.

Causes Of Neuropathic Pain


Before understanding the cause of neuropathic pain, it is important to know the concept of neuron and mechanism of pain.

What are neurons?

  • These are nerve cells that send messages all over the body. 

  • Neurons receive sensory input from the external world and send motor commands to our muscles after processing in the brain.

  • There are  approximately 86 billion neurons present in the human brain. 

  • There is a huge involvement of neurons in the perception of pain. 


Mechanism of pain

  • Any painful stimulus such as pressure, pinch, heat, chemical, and burn activates the pain receptors (nociceptive receptors) that are widely distributed in the skin and deep tissues. 

  • These pain receptors send signals to the brainstem (bottom part of brain) via first order neurons

  • There is a release of calcium in the brainstem which leads to the release of a chemical called glutamate

  • The released glutamate binds to special receptors present on the second order neurons 

  • These neurons then cross over in the spinal cord and reaches to to the cerebral cortex (part of the brain that is involved in sensation of pain)


Note: An inhibitory pathway is also present in the brain stem which travels down the spinal cord. This pathway has several connecting neurons that release chemicals such as serotonin, noradrenaline, and gamma amino butyric acid (GABA) which avoid the feeling of pain. 

Pain cessation results in the dominance of inhibitory pathways whereas pain enhancement is the outcome of stimulatory pathway dispensing upon the painful stimuli. 


How does neuropathic pain originate?

There are multiple theories behind neuropathic pain. Although the exact mechanism is not clear, neuropathic pain may arise due to the:


  • Increased activity of the first-order neurons if they are partially damaged

  • Impairment of inhibitory pathway

  • Development of a memory of pain in the second and third-order neurons due to alterations in the central processing of pain 

  • Increase in the sensitivity of neurons

  • Reduced the activation threshold of neuron

Did you know?
Popping a painkiller is one of the most common ways to treat pain at home. However, using these medicines more often than not is not a good idea as it might lead to health complications and side-effects. Here’s more on the types of painkillers, their mechanism and common side-effects (if any) you need to know.
Did you know?

Risk Factors For Neuropathic Pain

Several risk factors contribute to the development of neuropathic pain. These factors can increase the likelihood of experiencing neuropathic pain or exacerbating existing pain. Some common risk factors include:

1. Brain injury

Several brain injuries increase the risk of neuropathic pain. These injuries include:

2. Nutritional deficiencies

There is a role of various vitamins in maintaining the overall health of neurons. Vitamin B1, B6, and B12, and E deficiency can increase the risk of neuropathic pain. 

Explore our wide range of multivitamins

3. Inflammatory conditions

People with some inflammatory condition such as vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels) are more prone to develop neuropathic pain. 

4. Autoimmune conditions

Autoimmune diseases refers to the group of diseases in which the immune system attacks our own body. Some autoimmune diseases such as Guillaine Barre syndrome, Sjogren’s syndrome, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis increase the risk of neuropathic pain. 

5. Diabetes

Diabetes increases the risk of neuropathic pain to several fold. Approximately 50% of the patients with diabetes develop neuropathic pain. 

Overburdened with the cost of treatment of diabetes. Here are 5 effective ways to reduce healthcare costs.

6. Infections

Some infections such as Lyme disease, Epstein-Barr virus, Hepatitis C, Shingles, Leprosy, HIV are associated with neuropathic pain.

7. Toxins

Exposure to certain chemicals such as lead, mercury, arsenic and thallium can predispose to neuropathic pain.

8. Amputation

Amputation refers to the removal of any body organ. It is also associated with an increased risk of pain within the first week after amputation. 

9. Alcoholism

Chronic alcoholism increases the risk of neuropathy either through direct toxic effect on neurons or through malnutrition. 

Do you consume alcohol in large amounts? Book this test to check if it has impacted your overall health.

10. Certain medications 

Long-term use of the following medications may be associated with neuropathic pain:

11. Tumors

Some tumors can press on the peripheral nerves in the body which increases the risk of peripheral neuropathy. 

Did you know?
Neuropathic pain can persist for more than 3 months after the onset of herpes zoster infection. The vaccine reduces the risk of herpes zoster alongwith neuropathy by 50–90%. Here are 6 vaccines that every adult should consider getting.
Did you know?

Diagnosis Of Neuropathic Pain

There can be multiple causes of neuropathic pain. So, it is very important to uncover the primary cause of it. The diagnosis involves the understanding of medical history. The doctor may also inquire about:

  • Exposure to toxins

  • Medications 

  • Trauma

  • Nutritional deficiencies

  • Consumption of alcohol

There are no standard tests to diagnose neuropathy. However, following tests may aid in diagnosis. 

1. Quantitative sensory testing (QST)

  • In this test, individuals are given some sort of stimuli to induce pain. 

  • The stimuli is given in ascending and descending orders of magnitude. 

  • QST measures the perception of mechanical, thermal, and painful stimuli. 

  • It is useful to assess allodynia and hyperalgesia. 

  • This technique does not diagnose other conditions with the same sensory abnormalities as neuropathic pain.  

2. Nerve conduction study (NCS)

In this test, two electrodes are placed on the skin. One electrode stimulates the nerve and the other electrode records the time taken by the muscle to contract in response to the electrical pulse. 

3. Skin biopsy

This involves examination of a small sample of skin tissue under a microscope. It helps to detect nerve degeneration or the presence of any lesions  under the skin as a possible cause of neuropathic pain. 

4. Other tests

Some other tests are also performed to determine the other disorder with similar set of symptoms or to diagnose the exact cause of neuropathic pain. These include:

  • Complete blood count

  • Glycosylated hemoglobin (Hba1c)

  • Vitamin and mineral (copper,  thiamine, pyridoxine, folate, Vitamin B12, and Vitamin E

  • Metal (mercury, lead, and arsenic)

  • Infectious disease (Lyme disease, Epstein-Barr virus, HIV, and syphilis)

  • Antibody testing for specific autoimmune diseases known to cause peripheral neuropathies such as Sjogren syndrome, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.

  • MRI or CT scans in cases where compression of the nerve is of concern

  • Nerve biopsy

  • Genetic testing (for inherited neuropathies)

  • Urine test 

Prevention Of Neuropathic Pain

1. Manage underlying conditions

Almost all cases of neuropathic pain arise are associated with some disease. So, the best way to prevent neuropathic pain is to manage any underlying conditions.

2. Keep a check on your diet

A wholesome well- balanced diet that includes carbohydrates, good fats, protein, vitamins and minerals is the backbone to prevent any disease.

Vitamin B12 is a key constituent of a neuron. Make sure to consume rich sources of Vitamin B12 like meats, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy foods and fortified cereals.

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3. Exercise regularly

Exercise at least 30 minutes to one hour of exercise at least three times a week.

4. Avoid triggers

Avoid risk factors like exposure to toxic chemicals, smoking and consumption of alcohol trigger nerve damage that can further lead to neuropathic pain. 

Tips to prevent or delay neuropathic pain in diabetes

Neuropathic pain is a prominent complication of diabetes. Nearly half of the diabetic population developed neuropathic pain over a period of time. 

The best way to prevent or delay this complication is to keep the blood sugars in check. This can be achieved by:

  • Indulging in regular physical activity

  • Losing weight if you’re overweight

  • Limiting or avoiding alcohol

  • Quitting smoking

  • Following a well guided healthy diet plan 

  • Avoiding late night meals

  • Adhering to the medications as prescribed by your doctor

Buy the products for complete diabetes care from the comfort of your home.

Specialist To Visit 

One should seek immediate medical care in case of unusual tingling, weakness, or pain in your hands or feet. The early diagnosis and treatment helps in controlling the symptoms faster. It will also prevent further damage to the nerves. 

The speciality of doctor that can help in managing neuropathic pain include:

  • Neurologist

  • Physical therapist

  • Occupational therapist

  • Endocrinologist 

  • Rheumatologist

  • Psychiatry & addiction medicine 

  • Surgeon 

  • Oncologist 

A neurologist helps in diagnosing the condition as they are specialized in treating disorders that affect the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. 

Individuals with neuropathic pain find it hard to do even basic functions.  Physical therapists help design activities and exercises to build motor skills and strength and to improve muscle control, posture, and balance.

Occupational therapists help to build skills needed for daily functioning.

Since neuropathic pain is mostly associated with endocrine disorders such as diabetes, an endocrinologist helps in managing and treating NP due to that sort of disorder. 

Rheumatologists help in managing NP associated with conditions such as arthritis. 

Psychiatry & addiction medicine specialists are helpful for individuals having alcohol-induced peripheral neuropathy. 

Surgeons help in managing pain that is developed as a result of some surgery. 

Oncologists help in managing the NP that arises due to cancer.

To get the right diagnosis, it is important to consult the right doctor. Consult India’s best doctors online.

Treatment Of Neuropathic Pain

Drug and non-drug therapies are usually used in combination for management of neuropathic pain.

I. Treatment considerations

1. The treatment usually focuses on the underlying disease such as-

  • Glucose control in diabetic neuropathy
  • Cessation of alcohol in alcoholic neuropathy
  • Supplementation in vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

2. Chronic neuropathic pain is usually treated using corticosteroids. 

3. Neuropathic pain that develops due to  small-fiber neuropathies, does not typically respond to pain relief medications. Such severe pain requires the use of certain anti-epileptics, and tricyclic antidepressants.

II. Pharmacological (drug) therapy

It includes the following class of drugs:

1. Antidepressants: They are effective against steady burning and aching pain. The common examples include:

2. Anti-epileptic drugs: These drugs act via enhancing the effect of inhibitory chemicals such as GABA. The common examples are carbamazepine and gabapentin

3. Opioid analgesics: These drugs act via decreasing pain impulses from the brain. Oxycodone is the most commonly used opioid in relieving neuropathic pain. 

4. Local anesthetics: They work by desensitization of the affected part. The 5% lidocaine patch is used for post-herpetic neuralgia. 

III. Other treatment modalities

In case of chronic neuropathic pain that has failed to respond to conservative medical management, the following approaches are considered: 

  • Epidural injections (injection into the space around the spinal nerves in your lower back) of local anesthetics and corticosteroids.
  • Implantation of epidural and intrathecal drug delivery systems.
  • Insertion of spinal cord stimulators.
  • Local nerve blocks.

Home care For Neuropathic Pain

Here are some general tips that might help manage neuropathic pain at home:

1. Consume a diet rich in Vitamin B

It is essential to add vitamin B rich foods to your diet including eggs, milk, and other dairy products.

2. Use hot and cold compresses

Hot and cold compresses are an effective therapy for neuropathic pain.

A warm compress over the painful area helps in relieving pain by increasing the blood flow. It also reduces muscle stiffness and spasms. 

A cold compress is also helpful in subsiding the pain through reducing swelling. 

Shop from our vast range of hot and cold packs.

3. Soak in warm water and epsom salt

The severe neuropathic pain especially in feet can be managed to a great extent by soaking the feet in epsom salt and warm water. It can help ease the pain and discomfort. The magnesium sulfate in the salt helps reduce inflammation and promote healing.

One can also try a few home remedies that can act as adjunct to conventional treatment. However, if the nerve pain is severe, one shouldn't rely on home remedies and consult a doctor.

It also advisable to seek advice from a healthcare provider before initiating any of these:

4.  Turmeric (haldi)

The anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric help in easing out nerve pain. You can consume it raw, cooked, with milk or as a supplement.

Buy the best turmeric supplements from the comfort of your home.

5. Apple cider vinegar

 It is loaded with magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, potassium and anti-inflammatory properties which augment relief from nerve pain.    

It can be consumed by adding 1-2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar in a glass of warm water. 

Explore our wide range of options for apple cider vinegar.

Complications Of Neuropathic Pain

The chronic ongoing neuropathic pain can lead to serious complications:

1 Injuries: The loss of sensations increases the chances of injuries and wounds due to lack of feeling of pain.

2. Gangrene: Untreated infected wounds can even lead to gangrene – death of a tissue due to reduced blood supply. In rare cases, it can even lead to amputation (removal of a body part) in order to prevent  the infection from spreading. 

3. Loss of bladder control: Neuropathy can even cause involuntary urination due to loss of sensation in the bladder. Diabetic neuropathy is the most common cause of this condition, but it is also seen in people with Guillain-Barré syndrome, and HIV infection.

4. Disturbed sleep: The constant pain hampers the quality of sleep in most of the individuals with neuropathic pain. 

5. Anxiety and Depression: Many people with neuropathic pain develop mood swings, anxiety and depression due to the chronic nature of the condition. 

Alternative Therapies For Neuropathic Pain

Many patients with neuropathic pain pursue complementary and alternative treatments that include:

1. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is the practice of penetrating the skin with thin needles. These needles  are then activated through gentle and specific movements of the practitioner's hands or with electrical stimulation. 

The technique might release chemicals that numb pain, or block the pain signals sent from the nerves.

2. Percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation

In this, nerves are stimulated through electrodes placed under the skin. This makes the muscles contract which helps in relieving pain. 
There is another technique called transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, in which electrodes are placed on the skin. 

3. Physical therapy (physiotherapy)

Nerve damage can lead to muscle weakness and wasting. Physiotherapy helps in improving muscle tone, balance and coordination. It includes guided movements, massages and application of stimuli such as heat, cold, and electrical currents.

4. Occupational therapy

This therapy is recommended in individuals who have trouble coordinating normal physical movements such as walking up or down stairs, kicking balls, or jumping. 

5. Massage

Massage is helpful in providing symptomatic relief. Massage applied to specific muscles often increases blood flow and releases knots of muscle tension which helps in reducing overall pain. 

6. Graded motor imagery

It involves various innovative exercises and movements to target neuropathic pain. 

7. Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that helps individuals to cope better with the emotional symptoms of severe neuropathic pain. 

Living With Neuropathic Pain

The following measures help in managing the pain:

1. Indulge in exercise 

Individuals with neuropathic pain should indulge in exercise regularly. Stretching and yoga are found to be very effective in increasing the flexibility of muscles and reducing the severity of pain.

2. Use compression socks

Individuals with neuropathic pain in the feet should use compression socks. They help to reduce swelling and inflammation and overall pain. 

3. Take adequate rest

People should take regular breaks from normal activities such as walking, standing, and other activities. Adequate rest also helps in repairing the nerves faster. 

4. Avoid alcohol

Individuals with NP should avoid alcohol as it may hamper recovery. This is because alcohol negatively affects the absorption of several vital vitamins and minerals that are required for the normal functioning of the nerves.

5. Managing emotional stress

Living with neuropathic pain can develop a feeling of hopelessness, anger or even depression due to the constant pain. 

People may start withdrawing themselves from people and may stop doing the fun things you used to do. The following measures may help in managing the emotional chaos:

  • Surround yourself with friends, family and people who give you support. 

  • Be open to activities you love and that bring you happiness. 

  • Explore activities that will stimulate you mentally, such as reading or puzzles. 

  • Be open with the people you live with and others close to you.

Frequently Asked Questions


  1. Murnion BP. Neuropathic pain: current definition and review of drug treatment. Aust Prescr. 2018 Jun;41(3):60-63. doi: 10.18773/austprescr.2018.022. Epub 2018 Jun 1. PMID: 29921999; PMCID: PMC6003018.External Link
  2. Hammi C, Yeung B. Neuropathy. [Updated 2022 Oct 15]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan.External Link
  3. Finnerup NB, Kuner R, Jensen TS. Neuropathic pain: from mechanisms to treatment. Physiological reviews. 2020 Nov 3.External Link
  4. Svokos K, Goldstein L. The Pathophysiology of Neuropathic Pain. Pract Pain Manag. 2009;9(5). External Link
  5. Truini A. A Review of Neuropathic Pain: From Diagnostic Tests to Mechanisms. Pain Ther. 2017 Dec;6(Suppl 1):5-9. doi: 10.1007/s40122-017-0085-2. Epub 2017 Nov 24. PMID: 29178037; PMCID: PMC5701892. External Link
  6. Diabetes and Nerve Damage, Centers Of Disease Control and Prevention, Last Updated On: June 20, 2022External Link
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