Neuralgia is a broad term used to describe pain and other symptoms related to nerve dysfunction. Neurological pain can affect any part of the body and often is the result of a minor injury, such as a strained muscle or sprained ligament. Another major cause of neuralgia is nerve compression or irritation associated with a degenerative spine condition. The anatomical components of the spine - vertebrae, intervertebral discs, facet joints, ligaments, etc. - can begin to break down under years of wear and tear. When this happens, space is reduced for the spinal cord and nerve roots. Compression of the spinal cord or nerve roots can produce localized pain at the site of the impingement, pain that travels the length of the affected nerve, tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness - all of which are forms of neuralgia.
Treatment for Neuralgia
Because the term neuralgia is used to describe such a wide variety of neurological symptoms, treatment options vary greatly. Further complicating the matter is the fact that some forms of neuralgia are extremely difficult to diagnose. Treatment for trigeminal neuralgia (chronic facial pain) naturally is different from treatment for postherpetic neuralgia (shingles), and both of these are dealt with differently than occipital neuralgia (chronic sharp pain in the upper neck, back of the head, and behind the ears). In general, though, spinal neuralgia - pain and other symptoms that originate with nerve dysfunction within the spine - can be treated using conservative methods such as:
- Pain medication
- Epidural steroid injections
- Stretching and other exercise
- Physical therapy
- Alternative treatments such as chiropractic therapy and acupuncture
- Heat and cold applications
- Minimally Invasive Alternative
More often than not, conservative treatment is enough to manage neuralgia symptoms. However, if chronic symptoms continue to be debilitating after several weeks or months of nonsurgical treatment, call us.
Types of Neuralgia
Neuralgia is a term used to describe the set of symptoms associated with nerve dysfunction. In terms of the spine, it means pain, tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness caused by compression of a nerve root or irritation of the spinal cord. Compression or irritation can occur either due to traumatic injury, or (more frequently) over time as part of the aging process.
Classification of the Types of Neuralgia
The term neuralgia, while not necessarily familiar, covers a wide variety of pain and other symptoms that millions of Americans experience every day. There are many types of neuralgia, but they all share one common characteristic: some form of nerve dysfunction is present.
Here are a few examples of the different classifications of neuralgia, with brief descriptions of associated symptoms and causes:
- Occipital pain and other symptoms that spread through the neck and head; caused by dysfunction of the occipital nerves, which run from the base of the neck to the scalp.
- Postherpetic - chronic pain where a shingles infection once occurred; often occurs in people older than 60 as a resurfacing of the virus that causes chickenpox.
- Trigeminal - painful swelling and electric shock-like spasms on the face, especially around the eye; may be triggered by touch or by sounds as a result of trigeminal nerve dysfunction.
- Glossopharyngeal - severe pain in the tongue, throat, ear and tonsils; occurs as a result of irritation of the ninth cranial nerve.
- Sciatic - shooting pain in the lower back, buttocks, legs, feet and/or toes; occurs as a result of compression of the sciatic nerve, the longest and widest nerve in the body.
Treatment for Neuralgia
Different types of neuralgia require different kinds of treatment, but in general, the symptoms can be managed using conservative methods of treatment such as pain medication, exercise, epidural injections, and others. However, if chronic symptoms persist despite weeks of conservative treatment, surgery may become an option. If so, contact Laser Spine Institute to learn how a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure performed using advanced, endoscopic technology may be able to help.
What is Neuralgia?
Neuralgia is the set of symptoms associated with nerve dysfunction. The most common of these symptoms is pain, which can occur intermittently in one area of the body, or can radiate along the length of a damaged nerve. Other symptoms of neurological dysfunction are tingling, numbness, or weakness in a group of muscles innervated by the affected nerve. These symptoms can occur anywhere in the body, but are most common in the areas innervated by the portions of the nervous system associated with the vulnerable cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) regions of the spine.
What is the Primary Cause of Neuralgia?
There are many potential causes of nerve dysfunction, including:
- Certain drugs
- Chemical irritation
- Kidney malfunction
- Infections, including shingles
- Traumatic injury
The shared characteristic of these potential causes of neuralgia is an interference with the function of the central or peripheral nervous systems. Among the most common conditions that interfere with nerve function is compression of a nerve root or irritation of the spinal cord associated with a degenerative spine condition such as bone spurs or a herniated disc. These conditions occur more frequently in the cervical and lumbar spines, where the spinal anatomy is responsible for supporting the weight of the head and the upper body, and where stress-inducing movement leads to wear and tear over time.
What is the Best Way to Treat Neuralgia?
Neuralgia normally can be treated conservatively, using pain medication, exercise, or pain-blocking epidural steroid injections. However, if chronic symptoms persist after several weeks of conservative treatment, Contact us.
What Causes Neuralgia?
If you're one of the millions of people who suffer from neuralgia, or pain that is caused by nerve damage or nerve compression, you may have wondered, "What causes neuralgia?" While neuralgia can occur anywhere in the body, it is especially common in the spine, where degenerative conditions can cause anatomical abnormalities to press on spinal nerves or the spinal cord itself.
The spine is especially susceptible to degenerative conditions for two reasons: its flexibility accommodates all of the body's movements, but it is also forced to support a large amount of weight. Therefore, the vertebrae, intervertebral discs, facet joints, ligaments, and muscles of the spine can begin to deteriorate over time, a process that can lead to any of the following conditions:
- Bone spurs
- Herniated disc
- Bulging disc
- Spinal stenosis
Can I Prevent Neuralgia?
In addition to degenerative causes, neuralgia can also occur due to obesity, poor posture, overexertion, disease, infection, and congenital disorders. While some of these are unavoidable, other risk factors can be controlled by exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, practicing proper body mechanics, and not smoking.
If conservative treatments, such as pain medication, behavior modification, and hot-cold compresses, have proven ineffective, Laser Spine Institute may be able to help you find lasting pain relief. We offer a variety of minimally invasive, outpatient procedures that address neuralgia and its underlying causes. We'd even like to offer you a complimentary review of your MRI or CT scan to find out if you could be a candidate for one of our revolutionary endoscopic procedures.
What Should I Do If I Think I Have Neuralgia?
If you believe that you may be suffering from neuralgia, or nerve pain, you should schedule an appointment with your primary care physician. Before you arrive for your appointment, do some preliminary research about nerve pain and write down a few questions to ask the doctor. In addition, several days or weeks before seeing your physician, record some information about the location, nature, severity, and frequency of your symptoms so that you can help your doctor arrive at an accurate diagnosis.
Neuralgia is caused when a local nerve, a nerve root, or the spinal cord itself becomes compressed by some kind of anatomical abnormality. While obesity, poor posture, disease, or congenital disorders can lead to neuralgia, the most common source of nerve pain is a degenerative condition like a herniated disc, a bulging disc, spondylolisthesis, bone spurs, or spinal stenosis. While a physical examination and a review of your medical history will help your doctor to diagnose your neuralgia, medical imaging tests will likely be necessary to confirm a diagnosis and pinpoint the exact location of your neural compression.
These tests may include the following:
- MRI - Magnetic resonance imaging is radiation-free and uses magnetic radio frequency fields to construct an image of the body.
- CT scan - Computed tomography uses a series of 2-D X-rays to create a 3-D image.
- Radiograph - An X-ray that produces a cross-sectional image used to view the density and composition of bodily tissues.
Conservative Treatments for Neuralgia
If your primary care physician confirms a diagnosis of neuralgia, he or she will likely prescribe a regimen of conservative treatment. This could include analgesics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, hot and cold compresses, intermittent rest, or behavior modification. However, if you find that weeks or months of conservative treatments fail to offer you lasting pain relief, contact Laser Spine Institute. We offer a variety of minimally invasive, outpatient procedures that offer a welcome alternative to the risks and long recuperation of an open spine surgery. Request a complimentary review of your MRI or CT scan and find out if you could be a candidate.
How To Treat Neuralgia
Treatment for spinal neuralgia, which is defined as nerve-related pain in the back or neck, can come in a variety of forms. Unless your neuralgia is severe, your doctor will most likely suggest that you begin a regimen of mild, conservative treatments, such as over-the-counter or prescription analgesics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, behavior modification, hot and cold compresses, periods of rest, gentle stretching, and low-impact exercises.
Pain Management Techniques
The majority of patients suffering from neuralgia will likely find relief with conservative treatments, though some patients may need more targeted pain management methods. Your primary care physician may refer you to a pain specialist who can evaluate whether you're a candidate for the following:
Epidural steroid injections
- TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)
- Ultrasound therapy
- Transdermal analgesic pain patch
- Minimally Invasive Treatment for Neuralgia
If weeks or months of nonsurgical treatments do not help your neuralgia symptoms to abate, your doctor may suggest that you consider spine surgery. Keep in mind that there are alternatives to highly invasive, open spine surgeries like fusion. Minimally invasive procedures present far fewer risks and a greatly expedited recovery period. Laser Spine Institute offers a variety of endoscopic procedures that have helped tens of thousands of people rediscover their lives without back and neck pain. Contact us today to request a complimentary review of your MRI or CT scan or for more information about how to treat neuralgia.