Neuralgia: Types, Causes, Treatment
Neuralgia is also known as neuropathic pain or nerve pain. The word neuralgia is actually a combination of two words, “neuro” which relates to nerves and “älgesia” which means the capacity to feel pain or sense of pain.
This condition is not an illness on its own but it occurs when there is an illness that affects the function of the nerves when sending signals to the brain. Neuralgia is a burning, stabbing, and most often severe pain caused by a damaged or irritated nerve.
Mild neuralgia can be experienced by anyone at some point in their life. These bouts of neuralgia usually don’t last long and tend to go away on their own after a few days. Some types of neuralgia, however, can be debilitating and lasts longer. The pain that these types cause is so excruciating that it greatly affects the quality of life of the person affected.
Types of Neuralgia and Their Causes
There are two main categories of nerve pain. Central Neuralgia that originates in the brain or spinal cord and Peripheral Neuralgia that stems from the peripheral nervous system. The most common types of neuralgia include:
Trigeminal Neuralgia - The trigeminal nerve supports different areas of the face including the jaw and cheeks. Pain emanating from the trigeminal nerve can cause severe pain that feels like sudden jolts of electric shock or burning pain that most often affects only one side of the face.
- Multiple sclerosis
- Any tumor that compresses the trigeminal nerve
- Brain lesion
- Surgical injury
- Facial trauma
Atypical Trigeminal Neuralgia - This is characterized by a throbbing and burning pain in the forehead, temples, eye area, sinuses, cheeks, and jaw. It comes with a headache and an occasional electric shock-like feeling. Unlike typical trigeminal neuralgia, atypical trigeminal neuralgia can also be felt across the neck and scalp. This type of neuralgia and trigeminal neuralgia have the same causes.
- Age - 50 years old and up
- Gender - women
- Improper dental work
Pudendal Neuralgia - The pudendal nerve is the main nerve found in the pelvis. Pudendal neuralgia is chronic pelvic pain that comes from irritated or damaged pudendal nerve. This nerve supports the area between the buttocks, lower buttocks, and genitals. Burning sensation, electric shock, shooting pain can be felt.
- Giving birth
- A tumor that squeezes the nerve
- Certain exercises like biking
Postherpetic Neuralgia - This type of neuralgia usually follows after having a bout of shingles which is also known as herpes zoster. Postherpetic neuralgia affects the nerves in the skin and can be mild to severe. Severe cases are very painful and affect the same areas where the rashes caused by shingles occurred.
- Age - 50 years old and up
- Severity of shingles
- Location of shingles
- Delayed antiviral treatment of shingles
Occipital Neuralgia - The occipital nerves are the nerves that run through the scalp and when these nerves are inflamed or damaged, occipital neuralgia happens. Pain is felt at the base of the base and can spread to the back of the head or behind the ears like a piercing, electric shock-like, or throbbing ache.
- Pinched nerve root in the neck
- Injury to the scalp or skull
- Head or scalp surgery
- Tight muscles at the back of the head
Glossopharyngeal Neuralgia - The glossopharyngeal nerve, also known is also known as the ninth cranial nerve. It’s a mixed nerve that mainly supplies the parotid gland, pharynx, and posterior tongue. This nerve is involved in swallowing, salivation, taste, speech, the tonsils, the middle ear, and blood flow to the brain. Glossopharyngeal neuralgia is a rare condition that causes pain in the throat and neck.
Cause - Irritation of the ninth cranial nerve
Risk factor - People over the age of 40
Intercostal Neuralgia - The intercostal nerves originate from the somatic nervous system and help in muscle contraction. They also supply sensory information from the parietal pleura and the skin. From the spinal cord, these nerves extend and run under the ribs. Inflammation and injury to the intercostal nerves can cause intercostal neuralgia that brings an intermittent or constant piercing, burning pain that affects the upper abdomen. upper back, and chest wall.
- Inflammation of the intercostal nerves
- Injury to the intercostal nerves
- Post thoracotomy pain syndrome (PTPS)
- Postherpetic neuralgia
- Breast surgery
- Pinched nerve
- Abnormal growths
Depending on the severity and the type of neuralgia, treatment will vary. Local nerve blocks, topical ointments, physical therapy, and steroid injections can be used for mild neuralgia. Prescription drugs and/or surgical procedures can be used to treat severe neuralgia.
One of the best ways to relieve pain caused by neuralgia is using a Chi Machine. This machine increases health and vitality with a simple swing or "swimming fish" motion. Know more about it here.
If left untreated, neuralgia can greatly affect your daily activities. Please consult your physician to work out a proper treatment plan.