Being in pain isn't fun. It's even less fun if your pain is chronic or won't go away. Describing your pain to your doctor or other people can be challenging, especially if you don't know what the different types of pain are or what they feel like.
Nerve pain, also called neuropathic pain, can develop if your nervous system is damaged in some way. Nerve pain can take many forms but most commonly presents as:
- Tingling or pins and needles
- Sharp sensations
- Muscle weakness
- Increased sensitivity
- Burning pain
- Stabbing, shooting pain
These symptoms most commonly occur in the neck, back, and limbs. Nerve pain is chronic, both ongoing and constant. It doesn't go away on its own because there's a problem with the nerve.
What causes nerve pain?
Nerve pain can be caused by injuries to the brain, spine, or the nerves themselves. Nerve pain can also be the result of illness. Some illnesses that can cause nerve pain are:
- Infections, including shingles
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Cancer and its associated treatments
Having one of these illnesses won't automatically lead to nerve pain, but they do increase your risk of developing nerve pain. Another illness, fibromyalgia, is diagnosed when the main symptom is nerve pain without other underlying conditions.
How is nerve pain treated?
There are many treatments for nerve pain, but they begin with treating the underlying illness if one exists. Other treatment methods include:
- Painkillers, both prescription and over-the-counter
- Physical therapy
Muscle pain, also called musculoskeletal pain, affects your muscles, bones, ligaments, and sometimes even nerves. The pain can be limited to one area or widespread. Muscle pain can also be long-term or chronic pain as the result of an injury or overuse.
What causes muscle pain?
Muscle pain is caused by inflammation or swelling, which can be the result of an injury or overuse. Falls, car accidents and sports injuries are some common causes of muscle pain. Pain from this type of injury can be chronic and recurring over a long period of time, especially if you don't seek medical attention at the time of the injury.
Muscle pain can also occur from overuse of the muscle, which is extremely common in the Western world. If you work a physically demanding job, like in a warehouse or construction, it's likely that you'll experience lower back pain or some other type of muscle pain from the type of work that you do. Muscle pain can also occur from office jobs, as sitting and looking at a computer without enough breaks can result in stiffness from lack of movement.
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How is muscle pain treated?
There are many ways to treat muscle pain, and they're similar to the treatments for nerve pain:
- Painkillers, both prescription and over-the-counter
- Exercise, particularly stretching
- Acupressure or massage
- Physical therapy
Depending on the cause and severity of your muscle pain, there may be other options for medical or surgical intervention that aren't available to patients with nerve pain. You'll want to consult with your doctor, and they may refer you to an orthopedic specialist to discuss options to relieve your pain.
Nerve Pain vs. Muscle Pain
When attempting to diagnose your pain, your doctor will ask when and how your pain began. They'll also ask you to describe the type of pain you're experiencing. If the pain started after an injury and it's a dull ache, it's likely muscle pain. If your pain seemed to come out of nowhere or it's been ongoing, and it feels like your skin is on fire, you're likely experiencing nerve pain.
If you're experiencing any kind of pain, you'll definitely want to contact your doctor. They can help you diagnose the type of pain you're experiencing and work with you to create a treatment plan. They may prescribe some kind of pain medication or help you design an exercise plan to treat your pain. They may also refer you to a specialist or physical therapist.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Health Direct: "Nerve pain (neuralgia)."
Loma Linda University Health: "Nerve Pain vs. Muscle Pain — Is there a Difference?"
Penn Medicine: "Nerve Root Pain."
University of California Davis Health: "Understanding different types of pain."
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