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Neuropathic Pain

Understanding Neuropathic Pain

Neuropathic pain is a type of long-term (chronic) pain that is caused by damage to the nervous system.

Neuropathic pain overview

Neuropathic pain (nerve pain) occurs because of damage or injury to nerves – cells that send signals between the brain and spinal cord from the skin, muscles and other parts of the body.1

Common causes of neuropathic pain include nerve damage after injury or surgery and nerve pressure, but it can also be caused by viral infections, cancer, alcoholism or metabolic conditions such as diabetes.1 In the spinal cord and brain, nerve damage may also arise due to other neurological conditions such as stroke, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease.1,2

Facts about Neuropathic Pain

Neuropathic pain is a type of pain, which is caused by damage to the nervous system. There are many possible causes of neuropathic pain, such as injury, surgery, diabetes, alcoholism, infection, and cancer.1

Neuropathic pain can be described as a burning or electrical-like sensation.2


Neuropathic pain can be described as a burning or electrical-like sensation and it is commonly felt in the skin, or just beneath the skin.2


For example, people may feel excruciating pain every time clothes touch their skin, or a spontaneous burning that feels like boiling water, or bursts of ‘pins and needles’ in their feet when they walk.3


Other examples are a continuous crushing pain after an amputation, as if a phantom foot is being squeezed, and a band of searing pain around the body after a spinal cord injury.3


of people worldwide are thought to have neuropathic pain.4


of people in a survey described their chronic neuropathic pain as ‘worse than death’.5

Epidemiology and burden

Worldwide, 7–10% of people are thought to have neuropathic pain. In a US survey of 24,925 people conducted in 2017, most participants with neuropathic pain reported being in pain for more than 5 years.4,6


Not all people with nerve damage develop neuropathic pain, although the likelihood increases when the nerve damage is more severe.2 For example, results obtained from a comprehensive computerised literature review of diabetic peripheral neuropathy pain, searched from 1995 through to August 2004, showed that around a quarter to a half of people with diabetes have nerve damage, which may result in neuropathic pain.7 The prevalence of neuropathic pain is expected to increase in the future, due to the ageing global population and increasing rates of diabetes and cancer.2


Neuropathic pain adds a greater burden to already burdensome conditions. In one UK survey of 4451 people, 17% of participants described their chronic neuropathic pain as ‘worse than death’.5 The pain can be associated with anxiety, depression, disturbed sleep, which can affect a person’s quality of life.2 A global survey by the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that people with a chronic pain condition miss an average of 14 additional days of work or activities per year, compared with people without such a condition.8

Facts about Neuropathic Pain

Not all people with nerve damage will develop neuropathic pain.2

Neuropathic pain is associated with anxiety, depression, disturbed sleep, impaired thinking, and reduced quality of life.2

Diagnosis and care

Neuropathic pain is identified using medical history, examinations, and pain questionnaires.2 It is important that the correct type of pain is identified, because different types of pain should be treated differently.9


Treatment generally focuses on managing symptoms rather than the cause of neuropathic pain as it is not usually possible to repair the damaged nerves.2

  1. Neuropathic Pain Overview. Brain & Spine Foundation UK. Available at: https://www.brainandspine.org.uk/information-and-support/living-with-a-neurological-problem/neuropathic-pain/ [Last Accessed March 2022]
  2. Colloca L, Ludman T, Bouhassira D, et al. Neuropathic pain. Nat Rev Dis Primers 3, 1002 (2017)
  3. Costigan M, Scholz J, Woolf CJ. Annu Rev Neurosci. 2009;32:1–32
  4. Van Hecke O et al. Pain. 155 (2014) 654-662
  5. Torrance N et al. Pain. 2014;155(10):1996–2004
  6. DiBonaventura MD, Sadosky A, Concialdi K, et al. J Pain Res. 2017;10:2525–2538
  7. Barrett AM et al. Pain Med. 2007;8(Suppl 2):S50–S62
  8. Alonso J, et al. Mol Psychiatry. 2011;16(12):1234–1246
  9. Nalamachu S. Am J Manag Care. 2013;19(14 Suppl):S261–S266

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