Peripheral Neuropathic Pain: Why Is It SO Difficult to Treat?

Peripheral neuropathic pain has a number of causes…. it can be caused by chemotherapy, damage to the nervous system itself or even condition such as HIV and AIDS or nerve damage following alcohol related problems. It can be quite a debilitating condition simply because the pain is difficult to treat and traditional conservative treatments often do not exact the positive outcomes that patients would like.

Living with peripheral neuropathic pain

Living with peripheral neuropathic pain means learning to live with pain that can feel akin to being stabbed or even like an electric shock. But unlike an electric shock, which is a ‘one off’ the neuropathic pain is constant. Patients can find that the lightest of touches can be almost unbearable and they can become extremely sensitive to pain. Sometimes the pain can warp true sensations, so something that should feel relatively mild in terms of pain levels can be excruciatingly painful.

So this is not an easy condition to live with! It can also be difficult for the patient’s family and friends to understand what is happening and understand the nature of the pain. It can also be quite difficult to achieve acceptable levels of pain management. This is often extremely distressing for patients, who quite rightly feel that human kind has put men on the moon, but we cannot even treat peripheral neuropathic pain!

The Nervous System:

The nervous system is a vast and complex area which plays a pivotal role in communication, between the body and the brain. Without a nervous system the body obviously cannot function because the brain will not know what is happening elsewhere in the body.

In a sense, the nervous system is almost the most amazing part of the body’s design, carefully checking out what is happening, and then sending its signals to the brain. When there is damage to the nervous system, caused by whatever reason, the nerve cells are usually the first to go awry. It is almost as though they go ‘off message’ and send pain signals shooting to the brain, even though there may be no bona fide reason for the pain.

But it is the complexity of the nervous system that is the root of the problem. A broken leg can be put in plaster, a simple headache responds well to over the counter painkillers; but with peripheral nerves it is almost like treating a mass of tiny cells, without being exactly sure of which are the offending nerves!

Each peripheral nerve is in itself complex; it has a very dedicated role relating to its own particular area of the body. Once this is damaged it is difficult to treat it because of the complexity of the nervous system. Medication in the form of painkillers etc can be used, but in a sense it is like using a sledgehammer to dial a telephone number. The medication simply blitzes the body with painkillers, it cannot treat each delicate little nerve on an individual basis!

Role of Research

Research is always ongoing with regard to peripheral neuropathic pain, and a recent exciting discovery has been the use of percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (PENS) to alleviate pain and ensure that it is reduced to manageable levels.