Several therapies may help manage peripheral neuropathy pain, the pain associated with damage to the nervous system that carries messages from the brain and spinal cord to the rest of the body. The first step should be to treat any acquired condition that is causing the peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral nerves can regenerate, so treating the underlying condition, such as diabetes, can prevent new damage and allow the body to heal, which can result in less peripheral neuropathy pain. Another aspect of managing this kind of pain is to treat the symptoms.
First, it’s best to adopt a healthy lifestyle. This includes getting appropriate exercise or engaging in physical therapy, eating balanced meals, losing weight if obese, limiting alcohol, and avoiding environmental toxins. Losing weight and managing blood sugar levels can greatly improve a neuropathic condition in people with diabetes. Also important is avoiding environmental toxins and quitting smoking, because smoking reduces blood flow to the extremities, which can worsen neuropathic symptoms.
If the peripheral neuropathy pain is caused by inflammation or an autoimmune disease, immuno-suppressive drugs such as cyclosporine, azathioprin, or prednisone may reduce the pain. Another treatment that may help is a procedure in which immune system cells and antibodies are removed from the blood. Infusion of immuneglobulins can also help redirect the immune system and reduce inflammation and the resulting pain.
Pain killers, both over-the-counter and prescription, also can improve this kind of pain. Mild peripheral neuropathy pain may be reduced with over-the-counter analgesics, such as ibuprofen. Lidocane patches or injections can help, and side effects are few, though sometimes a rash develops. A lidocane patch can be applied directly to the painful area.
Stronger prescription painkillers can provide relief for extreme peripheral neuropathy pain. These painkillers include long-acting narcotics such as Oxycontin, fentanyl, and MS Contin. Patients can develop a dependence on these opiates, however, and these kinds of drugs can also induce sleepiness and constipation, so they are used as a last resort.
Prescription drugs intended to treat other conditions have also been shown to help some patients with severe, chronic pain. These drugs include epilepsy drugs, such as gabapentin, carbamazepine, and phentoin; and the heart rhythym drug mexiletine. Desipramine, a tricycle antidepressant, has been shown in clinical studies to improve painful diabetic neuropathy.
Medications aren’t the only options for managing peripheral neuropathy pain. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, called TENS, can also help. The gentle, tingly procedure sends a mild electrical current through the painful area to reduce pain. Pain caused by pressure can be relieved by braces. Surgery can reduce compression on nerves from slipped disks in the back, cancerous tumors, or nerve entrapment. Alternative medicine offers treatments such as acupuncture, capsaicin ointment, alpha-lipoic acid, and biofeedback.