This condition is likely due to an injured nerve. Healthy nerves only send signals when they’re stimulated. For example, the nerves in your big toe will send pain signals when you stub your toe.
However, if you have a nerve that’s injured, it will send signals even if it hasn’t been stimulated by a particular action. You can think of it this way – if it continually burns, it’s like a broken phone that rings when no one is calling. Or, if you have numbness, it’s like a phone without a dial tone when you need to make a call. Or, your injured nerve may be sending a message even when it has nothing to say, but the brain doesn’t know how to process it, so you experience a pins-and-needles sensation.
Over time, your spinal cord gets so used to this continual bombardment by your nerve that it keeps on sending signals without shutting off, or making adjustments if the nerve does manage to quit firing.
This type of pain is called neuropathic pain. It’s a vague and nondescript pain.
Treatments for Neuropathic Pain
Talk to your doctor about your pain. Your doctor may order a nerve conduction study (NCV)/electromyography (EMG) test. The NCV determines how fast your nerve is sending a signal and how much of that signal is getting through. The EMG looks at the interaction between the affected nerves and the muscles to determine if the nerves are healthy.
Unfortunately, medications you may normally take like acetaminophen and ibuprofen aren’t as effective with neuropathic pain. Even an acetaminophen and oxycodone combination medication prescribed by your doctor has a limited effect.
- Medications – more powerful pain relievers, anesthetics, muscle relaxers, antidepressants and anticonvulsants.
- Physical therapy – to decrease the intensity of your pain and increase the functioning of the affected area of your body.
- Medication injections to your nerves or pain relay center – to reduce pain or turn off the pain pathway.
- Implanted devices – a spinal cord stimulator that interferes with the spinal cord’s ability to transmit pain. Or, an intrathecal pump that delivers pain medications.
The amount of pain relief you can expect from treatment varies from one person to another, so it’s hard to predict. Whether your neuropathic pain goes away or not, depends on the extent of your nerve damage. If you have a mild injury and the reason for the pain is removed, such as pinched nerve or exposure to a toxic chemical, your nerve should heal. However, if the cause of the injury can’t be removed, it’ll be harder for the nerve to heal. In fact, if your nerve has been injured for too long, the damage can be irreversible.
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Note: If you follow these guidelines and your pain or foot problems persist, you may have a more serious condition. See your doctor for a more complete diagnosis and treatment.