What is a neuropathic pain?
Nerves carry messages about what your body is experiencing from all parts of the body to the brain. Nerves let you know when something is hot or sharp or soft. Nerves also carry the message of pain. Neuropathic pain is the kind of pain you feel when nerves are damaged or irritated. The pain you feel when you hit your “funny bone” or when your arm “goes to sleep” are both examples of neuropathic pain.
Longer-lasting neuropathic pain can occur:
- if tiny nerve fibers were cut during surgery;
- if a nerve was stretched during surgery;
- if tumor or swelling is putting pressure on a nerve;
- after an amputation (phantom limb sensation);
- after some chemotherapy, such as vincristine;
- after radiation to areas containing major nerves; and
- after a case of shingles (post-herpetic neuralgia).
What does neuropathic pain feel like?
It has been described as a burning, stabbing, tingling, shooting or a “tight” feeling. Younger children may not be able to describe the feeling in any detail, but they will be very insistent that something hurts! Sometimes the pain is constant, sometimes it comes and goes. Frequently it is worse at night or when trying to sleep.
How is neuropathic pain treated?
Your child’s doctor will listen to the description of the pain and chose the best medicine for that particular type of pain. Some drugs used specifically for neuropathic pain may be given in addition to ordinary pain medicines.
- Gabapentin (Neurontin)
- Amitriptyline (Elavil)
- Phenytoin (Dilantin)
- Carbamazephine (Tegretol)
All of these drugs take 3 to 5 days to begin relieving your pain. You should continue taking your regular pain medications until your doctor tells you to stop.
Does anything else help with pain?
Sometimes pressure in the form of an elastic sock, numbing creams like capasiacin, or a treatment called TENS can help (see “Do you know… Use of TENS for pain relief”). They are not a substitute for medications, but may help reduce the amount of medicine your child will need for pain. Distraction and relaxation techniques may also help.
If you have questions about neuropathic pain, call Rehabilitation Services at 595-3621. If you are inside the hospital, dial 3621. If you are outside the Memphis area, call toll-free 1-866-2ST-JUDE (1-866-278-5833), extension 3621.
This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.
St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.
ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).
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