Nerve pain, or neuropathic pain, is pain resulting from nerve damage. Nerve pain can result from postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) as well as a variety of other illnesses and conditions or nerve injuries. Nerve pain is often described as [source: NINDS]:
- Stabbing pain
- Feeling as if you're wearing gloves or stockings when you're not
- Excruciating, sharp twinges of pain
- Numbness or tingling in the affected limbs
Although it's not clear what causes PHN, it seems to be related to nerve damage of some sort [source: Stankus, Glugopolski and Packer]. PHN occurs following a bout of shingles, and can affect almost any part of the body. However, it's usually limited to the place where the shingles first occurred [source: Mayo Clinic].
Neurontin (dispensed generically as gabapentin) is an anticonvulsant medication that controls seizures by decreasing the abnormal excitement in the brain that causes seizures. Studies have shown that Neurontin can also reduce the neuropathic pain associated with PHN [source: National Library of Medicine]. The FDA has approved Neurontin for the treatment of PHN. Here's how it works.
- Nerves take messages back and forth from the brain to different parts of the body. If you touch something, a message is sent to your brain. Your brain interprets the message and sends a response signal back. This enables you to feel all sorts of sensations, including pain.
- If for some reason the brain is sending exaggerated messages to some part of the body, the result may be lots of pain. That's what happens in PHN.
- Neurontin somehow changes the way these messages are sent, thus altering the way the body senses and interprets the pain [source: Medline Plus, Lasich]. The end result is that the pain becomes less painful.
Although the Neurontin isn't FDA approved for treating all sorts of nerve pain, doctors prescribe it to treat other types of nerve pain as well [source: bellaireneurology.com].