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Nerve Pain and Nerve Pain Relief

What is nerve pain?

What is nerve pain? Nerve pain hurts – a lot. I have nerve pain, and it sometimes renders me practically helpless. It often comes out of the blue and attacks by stealth, when I least expect it. Nerve pain is difficult to describe, but if you ever experience it, you’ll never forget it. I’ll do my best to describe it for you: In my case, nerve pain hurts and burns at the same time. It also tingles. As I told one of my physicians, it’s like “an electric toothache.” The doc said he thought that was the perfect description for this type of pain. It can be extremely intense, and it’s something you can’t escape. Oftentimes, with muscle pain, you can get into a different position or rest the affected area to at least somewhat subdue the ache. You can’t do that with nerve pain. Sometimes the only way to get nerve pain relief is to take enough prescription pain meds to “knock yourself out,” so to speak. I don't do this, however, unless I'm desperate.

Before you read any further, I want to make it clear that I’m not a physician. I’m a retired teacher. I’m sharing with you my personal experiences, what I’ve been told by my healthcare team, and what I’ve learned through research. This article primarily focuses on nerve pain from compression, along with different forms of nerve pain relief I’ve tried.

A TENS unit can sometimes offer nerve pain relief.

A TENS unit can sometimes offer nerve pain relief.

Lower back pain can be caused by an impinged nerve.

Lower back pain can be caused by an impinged nerve.

Types of Nerve Pain and Nerve Damage

There are many different types of nerve pain. Most of mine is compression nerve pain, including hand pain from severe carpal tunnel syndrome, shoulder pain, and lower back pain, or sciatic nerve pain. My shoulder pain and lower back pain are both caused by foraminal stenosis. In other words, the “holes” where the nerves exit the spine are too small, due to inflammation and bone growing where it shouldn’t be growing. As a result, the affected nerves are squeezed, resulting in pain. This is often referred to as a pinched nerve, or as an impinged nerve.

Where the nerve pain occurs depends on which nerves are compressed. For example, my shoulder pain is caused by an impinged nerve on the left side of my cervical spine. The pain starts in my neck and results in shoulder pain and pain, tingling, and numbness that runs down my left arm. My lower back pain is sciatic nerve pain, caused by an impinged nerve on the right side of my lumbar spine.

Other types of nerve pain and damage can involve the bladder, the bowels, the genitals, the sweat glands, or the tear ducts. Diabetic neuropathy is a fairly common form of nerve pain and damage.

Shoulder pain and shoulder nerve pain relief

My left shoulder doesn’t hurt all the time, but when it does, it can be excruciating. I have a TENS unit, and sometimes it will help a little with the shoulder pain. It never stops the nerve pain in my neck and shoulder, but sometimes the TENS machine will “knock the edge off” the pain. On the other hand, sometimes the TENS unit has absolutely no effect. I also have an over-the-door traction device which sometimes helps. I jokingly refer to this as “hanging myself.” This device lifts my neck and stretches my cervical spine, allowing the nerves there to have more room. Sometimes aspirin will help alleviate the pain, due to its anti-inflammatory properties, I assume. I’ve tried physical therapy, but it was so painful that my doctor recommended I not continue. At times I’m forced to turn to narcotic pain relievers, but I do this as seldom as possible.

Sciatic nerve pain

What is sciatic nerve pain? Sciatic nerve pain, often called sciatica, often begins with lower back pain. From there, it usually travels through the affected buttock and down the leg. The sciatic nerve is big – the largest in the body. It’s connected to the skin of the leg, several muscles, and the hip joint. It begins in the lumbar spine at L4 and continues through the sacrum to S3.

Like most lower back pain and sciatic nerve pain, mine is caused by compression of the nerve where it exits the lumbar spine. Some sitting positions, standing, and walking can all trigger the pain. In my case, sciatic nerve pain is a shooting pain, but the pain isn’t always the same. Sometimes it includes numbness and tingling, along with some rather strange sensations. A few times, my sciatic nerve pain was accompanied by the feeling of water dripping down my thigh.

Sciatic nerve pain treatment

There are several things you can do at home for sciatic nerve pain treatment. Sometimes heat makes mine feel better, and this includes using a heating pad or one of those stick-on pads. Sometimes I bend over as far as possible under my shower massage and keep the water as hot as I can stand it. For some people, ice packs seem to help, but this isn’t the case with my sciatic nerve pain. Sometimes aspiring helps. I’ve also received cortisone shots and epidural injections, which provided short-term relief. As with my shoulder pain, my TENS unit will sometimes take away the worst of the pain, but not often. Oftentimes, if I lie on my back with my knees elevated, the pain will ease. The same goes for getting in just the right position in my recliner. This is a good sciatic nerve pain treatment for me because it causes the vertebrae in my lumbar spine to spread, providing more room for the nerves. When all else fails, I reach for my prescription pain medications.

Nerve pain and Cymbalta

I was prescribed Cymbalta several years ago for panic attacks and for nerve pain. It worked like a charm for the panic attacks, but I didn’t think it was having any effect on my nerve pain. One day my supply of Cymbalta ran out before I had a chance to refill it, and I was in agony for a whole day. At the time, I didn’t connect the lack of Cymbalta with the nerve pain. After it happened a few more times over several years, however, the same thing always happened – more nerve pain than usual. There has to be a connection.

Drugs for nerve pain

If you’re experiencing frequent nerve pain, see your doctor. If the shoulder pain, neck pain, or lower back pain is from compression, he’ll most likely suggest several methods of nerve pain relief. He’ll probably begin with the safest treatments first. If all these fail, he might prescribe prescription pain meds for you. PLEASE take these sparingly!

I highly recommend this for two reasons. For one, these drugs might be highly addictive. I’ve seen the effects of prescription drug addiction firsthand, with friends and relatives, and it’s not a pretty sight. Secondly, your body might get used to the drugs, and over time, it will take more and more of the medication to help ease your nerve pain. I don’t want either of these to happen to me, so I follow a simple philosophy. When my nerve pain attacks, I always start with the least treatment options. If, and only if, all these fail do I reach for the narcotics. Even then, I take a very small amount. I don’t try to be completely free of nerve pain – I just try to get it to a level that I can live with.

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Sciatic nerve pain and sciatica:

Lower back pain:


d. nguyen on November 25, 2012:

I have burning, stabbing pain on my right leg starting from my big toe to my thigh for years, more when standing and sitting with my leg down, I always have to elevate my leg even when riding in the car. I have MRI, XRAY, two lumbar injections, took Cymbatar, Lyrica, pain pills, nothing helped. The Orthopedic surgeon recommended back surgery. Recently, my doctor sent me to nerve study, they found no nerve damage. Why do I continue to have this terrible pain? doctor doesn't seem to have any answer.

jean nix on May 01, 2012:

arnica.. herb for relaxing muscles/with neck brace .

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on March 05, 2012:

Have you tried Lidocaine patches? My doc gave me some to try to they really seemed to help. Unfortunately, they are $500 for a box of 20. When and if I get Medicare insurance again, I will get an Rx for these! I am hoarding my samples now. I've tried them on my foot, low back and shoulder and it does relieve the pain!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on March 05, 2012:

Hi, Valerie. I seem to be missing part of your post.

Valerie on March 05, 2012:

I am talking about pain in the spine from matastsised bone cancer

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on November 15, 2011:

Thanks, Austin. I'll check it out. Nerve pain is a b****, huh?

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on November 04, 2011:

Holly, do some research on DMSO or MSM (which is a derivative of DMSO). I'm trying it now. It's available in any health food store as a supplement.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on November 04, 2011:

amitava, thanks for the suggestions. I'll have to check those out!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on November 04, 2011:

Quester, sounds like a wonderful vet! Does your dog have low back pain? If so, you could follow the same treatments the vet outlined for your pooch. lol

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on November 04, 2011:

Dinkan, thanks for the tip about celery juice. I hate it, but if it will help with my lwer back pain and nerve pain, I'll certainly give it a try!

amitava chakraty from India on November 04, 2011:

for nerve pain regular yoga,pranyam{breathing exercise} may be effective for permanent healing. on November 01, 2011:

LOL - for me it is my vet - if I could just find a human dog with as much knowledge and caring spirit I would be a happy camper -

to your health!


dinkan53 from India on October 28, 2011:

Me too experienced the sciatic nerve pain for some years with numbness and low back pain(herniated disc L5-S1). The neurologist that I consulted recommended daily exercise to alleviate pain. Exercise is sort of a wonder drug in the medical field because it can help the human body in so many ways. I also had celery juice which is a natural anti-inflammatory. Now I got great relief from the pain and it is coming back only when I do lot of physical work or after a long drive.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 28, 2011:

Thanks, quester. I have a wonderful oncologist - wish he could take care of all my health needs, including my nerve pain!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 28, 2011:

Garnet, you'll laugh at this, but it's true: one of the best things I've found for lower back pain is having one of my Great Danes lie back-toback with me. It supplies counter pressure and heat at the same time. I think I need to add that suggestion to the hub!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 28, 2011:

MB, I'm not saying people shouldn't use narcotics for pain relief, I'm just saying that users need to be careful. I sure use them when I have to! But I know people who'll take oxy for a slight headache when an aspirin or Tylenol would do the job.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 28, 2011:

Hi, Mike. Great feedback! I have a hot tub, and hydrotherapy really helps with muscle and joint pain, but it's not usually very effective for my nerve pain. I have thought about inversion therapy, however.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 28, 2011:

JS, my doc told me the same thing about surgery and lower back pain. Thanks for reading!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 28, 2011:

Austin - OMG, that sounds horrible! No, thank goodness I don't have that kind of foot pain. Bless you!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 28, 2011:

Mary, another coincidence - my daughter also suffers from migraines! Twins, I tells ya!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 28, 2011:

Mbwalz, I've had good results with Cymbalta, but I first began taking it, I had horrible nightmares. Also, now if I miss a dose, it's like my brain won't function. on October 28, 2011:

I think I know that doctor's brother - or maybe they are all related as it is difficult to find one that is still human...

good hub - thanks


Gloria Siess from Wrightwood, California on October 26, 2011:

I have chronic nerve pain from compressed disks in my lower lumbar spine--I know exactly what you mean--I also have found hot water bottles to be helpful. Good hub!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on October 25, 2011:

jenu, your comment made me LOL, re: the kick in the groin. Now THAT would be some intense nerve pain!!

MaryBeth Walz from Maine on October 25, 2011:

Since I dislocate things in my sleep and randomly during my day, I go to a wonderful Osteopathic group who does OMT. This has, I believe, kept me out of a wheelchair or at least from more severe problems. This also means that the joints squishing the nerves get fixed regularly. There's no permanent fix, but it helps with the management.

I use pain pills too and am not happy with the current fixation on addiction instead of treatment. Chronic pain of any kind should be treated like any other medical condition. Pain it's self will rewire your brain and effect all parts of your health. Instead, we seem addicted to demonizing people who need this medication. The number of deaths related to pain meds is astonishing but the number of people who are sent to the ER for Tylanol and other over the counter drugs as well as others taking overlapping medications with no one doctor's oversight is overwhelming too.

MikeNV from Henderson, NV on October 25, 2011:

Doctors have treatments but no cures for nerve pain. When Peyton Manning had his surgery earlier in the year they kept talking about him returning in a few weeks... I laughed it off. Right in the same article his Physcian said "Nerves do not regenerate".

Doctors can only treat the pain and sometimes surgery will bring relief by removing the physical pressure on the nerves, but the damage by that point may be permanent.

The treatment usually involves medications. Neurontin is often prescribed and sometimes works. Neurontin like Cymbalata are effective in some cases, but why they work or how they work is unknown. The downside to these drugs is what they are doing to your brain is also unknown. And you can't just cold turkey and get away from them.

Narcotics is a word that is demonized. And yes they can be addictive, but the side effect profile is well known. Use of narcotics for pain relief is well documented and much better understood than other drugs. When the media stops demonizing narcotics we will all be better off. Because some people abuse them often those that can benefit from them have difficulty getting them.

Enjoyed your hub. Sorry to hear you are going through so much. Other treatments that can help for spine pain are inversion thereabpy - where you do not have to hang completely upside down. There is a new non drug treatment called Calmare which is not painful that you may want to look into. Similar to tens the nerves are sent an electronic signal which tells the brain to stop treating the nerve pain as pain. This has been proven effective for some types of nerve pain. Hydro therapy can work well in some cases where there is muscle imbalances or trigger points. And of course massage. Unfotunatley most of these treatments are expensive and people in pain have trouble working so extra money isn't always available and insurance companies will usually only pay for x amount of PF and the drugs.

JSParker from Detroit, Michigan on October 25, 2011:

Ouch. But somehow just reading this helps. I had thought the prevalent theory of pain management was to "get ahead of the pain" or take the pill BEFORE the pain gets away from you. But your approach will help prevent addiction. I have had a good back surgeon tell me that the absolute LAST thing I should do is surgery. It doesn't always help and some people who have had it say surgery can make back pain worse. Thanks for this Hub. Voted Useful and Interesting. Best wishes to you!

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on October 25, 2011:

Wow, this hub describes EXACTLY what I am going through. I have one other thing though that (I hope) you have not experienced and that is - sometimes it feels like someone is taking a cattle prod or a taser and sticking it to the bottom of my right foot - EVERY 10 SECONDS! This went on for a week once. I had to go to the e.r. and they could not stop it even with dilaudid. I couldn't sleep, eat or get into any position that brought relief. It finally stopped after a week.

I have had recurrences of the shocks and lately some tingling in my left arm and hands. It really hurts. I've had to stop working because of this.

A neighbor brought me a "pain" patch that has lidocain in it and it really helps the foot shocks. Ask your doctor about those.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on October 25, 2011:

I feel bad for you having to deal with this pain. I am so lucky, I've had very little pain in my life. I don't think I could deal with constant pain. I have a daughter who has migraines; she comes to me for a neck rub which helps temporarily. This was good info. Thanks.

MaryBeth Walz from Maine on October 25, 2011:

Great hub! I have Elhers-Danlos Syndrome which mean's I sublux/dislocate joints spontaneously and pinchy nerves are often the result. I used to get 2 day excruciating headaches twice a month and no one knew what to do as by the time I got an MRI, my joints had moved back to normal.

I have heard of many with good results with Cymbalta and many who don't do well on it as it works to manipulate your neurotransmitters. I have not tried it yet as my pain is random and of many different kinds - especially muscular-skeletal.

Thanks Habee for another great Hub!

jenubouka on October 25, 2011:

Some of the best information and remedies are from those who experience it first hand. I broke my ass when I was 21 and experience that "out of the blue" pinching sensation. I told the doctor about it a long time ago and he wasn't getting the picture so I offered to kick him in the groin to exhibit what the pain was, we came to a faster solution....

I steer from narcotics because I probably would do more damage not feeling the pain so I use hot/cold methods and the good ol' remedy of Epson salt baths.

Although in reference to one of your other hubs about your TENS unit, that could be a solid solution to one's pinched nerves and nerve damage, especially in the shoulder, ugh, that is the worst, well besides the butt.

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