You're at the train station, sitting on a hard, cold bench with your foot tucked under you. Absorbed in your newspaper, at first you barely notice the numbness. Then, as you leap up to catch the train, you realize your foot has fallen asleep. You limp forward on your numb appendage, bracing yourself for the inevitable tingling, burning, stabbing pain, which will signal that your blood-deprived nerve endings are screaming back to life.
Neuropathic pain feels a lot like this. Neuropathy, from the Greek words neuro (nerve) and patheia (or pathos, meaning a disorder of), is an umbrella term that covers several conditions affecting the nerves.
Neuropathic pain can be difficult to diagnose and tricky to treat. It's most often a symptom of an underlying problem like diabetes, alcoholism or autoimmune disease. Neuropathy can also be caused by vitamin-B deficiency, tumors, infections, cancer treatments and certain hereditary disorders. Thirty percent of neuropathies are caused by diabetes; 40 percent are caused by other underlying conditions [source: Crosta]. In these cases, addressing the underlying cause will generally improve or relieve the neuropathy.
In almost 30 percent of neuropathic pain cases, however, the underlying cause of the pain is unknown [source: Crosta]. In these instances, and in situations where treatment of the underlying cause doesn't relieve the pain, other treatments are necessary. We'll explore five of them in this article.
Find out how antidepressants and anti-seizure medications help improve neuropathic pain next.