Understanding and Managing Nerve-Related Pain – What Is It and What Can I Do About It?

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One of the most common reasons for patients seeking out chiropractic care is nerve related pain. Due to its unpredictability and intensity, nerve pain can cause significant disruption in people’s lives and impact both their physical and emotional wellbeing. To understand what you can do about your nerve pain, it can be helpful to first better comprehend what it really is given the number of misconceptions that people may hold about it.

What Are Different Causes of Nerve Pain?

Nerve related pain can either stem from the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) or the peripheral nervous system (nerve roots and peripheral nerves) and might be easier thought of in terms of three broader categories: neuropathy, radiculopathy, and myelopathy.

Neuropathy – conditions involving damage to peripheral nerves – the nerves once they are away from the spine – and can result from injury, joint degeneration, repetitive stress as well as conditions such as diabetes, infections, or certain nutritional deficiencies.

Radiculopathy – conditions involving compression or irritation of spinal nerve roots coming off the spinal cord often due to herniated discs, spinal stenosis, degenerative changes or in some cases trauma or tumours. When someone tells you that you have a pinched nerve in your spine or that you are experiencing sciatica, they are often referring to radiculopathy.

Myelopathy – conditions involving spinal cord dysfunction and caused by central disc herniation, degeneration, tumour etc. Myelopathy is a condition of the central nervous system and will require specialised care or at the very least further evaluation.

While these may all sound similar, each condition presents with distinct symptoms and requires a specific treatment approach.

What Does Nerve Pain Feel Like?

Nerve pain can often be described as sharp, shooting, or burning, or it can feel like electrical shocks radiating along the affected nerve pathway. Sometimes rather than pain people with nerve-related conditions will instead experience tingling, numbness, pins and needles or even muscle weakness. Nerve pain can be persistent or intermittent, ranging from mild discomfort to agony, and will often be aggravated by certain positions or activities.

Does Stretching Help?

The short answer, usually no. While stretching exercises are commonly recommended for various musculoskeletal issues, they may not always be the most effective solution for nerve-related pain. In fact, certain stretches may exacerbate symptoms by putting additional strain on already irritated nerves.

Exercise does have a place in assisting recovery, but it is usually wiser to identify appropriate exercise in partnership with a health care provider (this might be your chiropractor, physio, or sports therapist). Appropriate exercises will typically consist of different types of nerve glides, gentle mobility work and strengthening of the supporting musculature of the spine and pelvis. Often, in the early stage’s exercises may be geared towards simply alleviating pain and restoring more normal mobility.

What about bed rest?

Again, in most cases bed rest is not recommended. Though it may provide short term relief of pain and may be appropriate in small doses, it also has the potential to exacerbate symptoms and lengthen healing times. This doesn’t mean that you should force through pain and carry on as though nothing happened, but rather that prolonged immobility can lead to decreased flexibility and increased discomfort upon resuming activity. Additionally, it may hinder circulation and depending on the cause of the problem can delay healing by limiting blood flow to the affected area.

Recent studies have instead shown that in most cases early return to normal activity, even if on a reduced basis or with modifications and breaks in place, will result in a quicker recovery and improved long-term outcomes.

How Can Chiropractic Help?

Chiropractic care offers a holistic approach to managing nerve-related pain, focused on addressing the underlying cause (if it is a mechanical one) and optimising spinal function to reduce nerve compression. Through spinal manipulation, mobilisation, traction and other similar interventions, the goal is to alleviate pressure on the involved nerve, reduce nerve sensitivity and put you in the optimal position for healing to occur while also providing guidance on how best to manage your condition at home, including identifying appropriate exercise(s) to support your recovery.

Treatment may further include different soft tissue modalities intended to help with pain management and reduce muscle spasm which typically develops as a protective mechanism and becomes a further source of pain and physical limitation.

I Think I Might Have Nerve Pain, What Should I Do?

The above information may seem like a lot to keep track of so what is the best solution? Because self-diagnosis is typically discouraged, if you are concerned that you may be experiencing nerve-related pain and you feel it is negatively impacting you, we usually recommend contacting a health care professional for advice. A manual therapist such as a physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor is a good place to start in most cases.

While we can’t guarantee results, at Core Clinics we do have a wealth of experience in treating nerve-related conditions and working across our multidisciplinary team we will do our best to find the optimal way to relieve your nerve pain, address its root cause where possible, or refer you to the appropriate specialist if we are unable to do so.

If you have any questions about the topics raised above, you can contact us for advice at patientcare@coreclinics.co.uk

Disclaimer: The information provided above is intended as general guidance and does not constitute medical advice. Always consult a suitably qualified healthcare practitioner if you have any of the symptoms or conditions described above.

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