Pain is the consequence of tissue injury and is the most common health complaint of millions of people. Generally, pain resolves once the injury heals. Unfortunately, there are some people who experience pain even without known cause or injury. Others suffer from persistent, chronic pain months or years after the initial injury. Usually, this type of pain is neuropathic in nature, thus it is called chronic neuropathic pain.
In chronic neuropathic pain, injury or damage to the nerves causes the central and peripheral nervous systems to malfunction and become the cause of pain. There is a dysfunction in the transfer of information between the spinal cord and brain from pain receptors in the muscles, skin and other body parts.
Symptoms of neuropathic back pain
Chronic neuropathic back pain can be felt at any part of the back, but is most common around the lower back. It results in a burning sensation and high sensitivity around the affected areas. Some report excruciating pain, sensations of pins and needles, numbness, and difficulty feeling temperatures. Others experience extra sensitivity to pressure around the area; even wearing thick clothes can worsen the pain.
Causes of neuropathic back pain
Neuropathic back pain can result from nerve damage or dysfunction after a trauma or surgery, cancer, viral infections, neurological conditions, vascular malformations, and certain metabolic conditions. Certain medications can also cause neuropathic pain in the back. In some cases, the exact cause is difficult to identify. This is doubly distressing especially that the cause of pain can be a cause of worry.
Among many sufferers of chronic neuropathic back pain, the condition is related to an underlying health condition such as diabetes or cancer, or treatments such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
Managing neuropathic back pain
As with any pain management treatment plan, the end goal is to relieve the pain while minimizing the possible adverse effects of the treatment. People suffering from chronic neuropathic back pain are often recommended to a pain management specialists or clinic for proper assessment, treatment and counseling on living with the condition.
Not all pain experience is the same, as such; pain management specialists develop a treatment plan that is suited to your condition. There is a wide variety of treatments that can be used in treating chronic neuropathic back pain. In cases where the etiology of the pain is not apparent, several treatment modalities are employed to find the best option for the case.
Generally, over-the-counter painkillers (such as aspirin, ibuprofen, mefenamic acid, and paracetamol) are not effective for neuropathic pain. Medications that may help relieve chronic pain include anti-epileptics, antidepressants, opioids, lidocaine preparations, capsicum cream, and injectable nerve blocks. While these medications help relieve chronic back pain, each medication has unwanted side effects which pain management specialists want to avoid. And because of these side effects, chronic pain management tends to be less dependent on medications.
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
In this treatment modality, the TENS machine produces a mild electrical impulse that is directed to specific nerve fibers through electrodes attached over the skin. By stimulating the nerve fibers, the pain impulses to the spinal and brain are thought to be blocked resulting in relaxation of the affected muscles and relief from pain.
- Percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (PENS)
For individuals who are suffering from chronic neuropathic back pain that is hard to treat, PENS may be recommended. This procedure is almost similar to TENS except that needles are used instead of electrodes. The electrical impulses are directly delivered to the affected tissues or nerves using electrodes inserted to the skin.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is increasingly being employed in the management of chronic pain conditions including chronic neuropathic back pain. Foremost of which is acupuncture. Originating from ancient Chinese medicine, this treatment modality involves insertion of fine needles along specific energy channels on the body. It is thought that this procedure hastens the healing process.
Considered a hybrid pain management modality, Microcurrent Point Stimulation (MPS) combines acupuncture, TENS and PENS. In this procedure, low-level DC voltage is directed to specific tissue and trigger points. This microcurrent is thought to mimic the bio-electrical activity of the cells and tissues thereby allowing it to alter sending of pain responses to the spinal cord and the brain. In a recent study conducted on patients suffering from chronic neuropathic back pain, MPS was compared with TENS. The results showed that MPS provided better pain relief as compared to TENS. It is not surprising why many pain management specialists are considering MPS as a staple in their treatment plans.
- Other therapies
Some sufferers also find relief from other alternative as well as conventional treatments (or a combination of both.) Other therapies that may help chronic neuropathic back pain sufferers include physical therapy, homeopathy, meditation, aromatherapy, and reflexology.
But more importantly, changes in lifestyle can have a profound benefit for chronic pain. Some changes include performing gentle exercises, having a balanced diet, maintaining a good posture, avoiding alcohol, and drinking plenty of water. Over time, these lifestyle changes can have tremendous help in finally treating chronic back pain.