Pain | August 20, 2017 | Author: Naturopath
Neuralgia is the medical term for pain in a nerve pathway. It usually feels like a sharp pain in the skin in one part of your body, caused by irritation or damage to a nerve. As there are many nerves, there are distinct types of neuralgia that affect different areas. Often the cause is unknown—older people are more prone, but it can affect people of any age. Neuralgia is not an illness itself, but is a symptom of a condition or injury. Most people will experience a short bout of mild neuralgia at some point in their lives. Some types of neuralgia are chronic and extremely painful, interfering with a person’s quality of life.
There are different types of neuralgia, including:
Trigeminal neuralgia—which causes sudden jolts of shooting pain that affects one side of the face. Sometimes it can be experienced on both sides but at alternate times. The trigeminal nerve is affected in this type of neuralgia as it supplies various areas of the face. Sometimes it can cause spasms of the facial muscles (tics), if the pain is severe. This is the most common type of neuralgia, which is more common in women over the age of 50.
Post-herpetic neuralgia—happens after a bout of shingles. The herpes virus causes inflammation of the nerve and the pain occurs in the same area as the shingles rash. The pain may linger long after the rash has dissipated, particularly in the face. Unfortunately, this type of neuralgia is common and can reoccur.
Occipital neuralgia—causes pain at the base of your skull which is dull and throbbing. It is usually located to this area but the pain can sometimes spread to other parts of your head. It is thought that tense muscles or ligaments may press against the main nerve resulting in irritation and inflammation. Risk factors include bad posture, trauma to the neck or viral infections.
Pudendal neuralgia—is a type of long-term pain that occurs in the ‘saddle area’ between your legs. The pudendal nerve is the main nerve that supplies the pelvic area. Symptoms include numbness, pins and needles, shooting pain, increased urination, pain during sex and a feeling as though there’s swelling in the area.
Other things that can trigger neuralgia include infection (such as a tooth abscess), anything that injures or puts pressure on a nerve, including certain tumours, slipped vertebral discs or broken bones and pregnancy. It can be due to nutritional deficiencies and is more likely to occur in people with diabetes, multiple sclerosis and those undergoing chemotherapy.
St John’s wort is traditionally used for conditions that affect the nervous system including depression, anxiety and neuralgia. It acts as an antioxidant, preventing damage to the nerves, reduces inflammation and provides pain relief. St John’s wort extract and various other active constituents have demonstrated such benefits in vitro and animal studies.
Additionally, St John’s wort possess antiviral activity and is clinically effective in the treatment of herpesvirus infections.
One study found that St John’s wort taken over 3 months, reduced the frequency and severity of recurrent herpes infection. The oil can also be applied topically and is effective in reducing burning, stinging, pain, redness and blisters in people with herpes simplex viruses.
Capsaicin is another choice for topical application with proven efficacy in nerve pain.
The B complex is a group of B vitamins, all of which are important in some way for a healthy nervous system. Vitamin B12 is of particular importance as it is vital for maintaining the structure of the myelin sheath that protects our nerves. Neuropathy often accompanies vitamin B12 deficiency, especially in diabetics taking metformin. However, even in non-deficient people, vitamin B12 may be helpful due to its antioxidant and neurotrophic properties (meaning it supports the growth, survival and differentiation of developing and mature nerve cells). Taking a high-strength B complex may be helpful but for increased absorption of vitamin B12 a form that is sublingual (absorbed under the tongue) is best.
Alpha lipoic acid is an important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrient which is involved in several processes and actions in the body. It has been found to significantly improve pain and paraesthesia (tingling or ‘pins and needles’ sensation) in people with sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome and diabetic neuropathy. One study found that it is safe to take during pregnancy for neuropathic pain but it is best to check with your naturopath or obstetrician before supplementing.
Fish oil, a rich source of omega-3, is well-known for its benefits to the cardiovascular system. Fish oil helps to reduce inflammation, cholesterol and improve circulation but it should also be considered when treating neuralgia. In vitro they been found to stimulate the growth of new nerve cells and provide protection. In animal studies, omega-3 has been found to slow the progression and reverse diabetic neuropathy. In human studies, 12 months supplementation was shown to increase nerve length in the cornea.
Important for over 300 enzyme reactions in the body, this abundant mineral is essential for healthy nerve function. In the case where there is muscular involvement, such as with tics or tense muscles, magnesium can be helpful to reduce muscle tension, inflammation and promote relaxation. It is often useful in reducing muscle cramps, spasms and twitches. Try magnesium salt baths, topical application or internal supplements.
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