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What is Nerve Pain?

Nerve pain is sharp or burning pain that follows the path of a nerve. It’s most common in the feet and legs, but can occur in other parts of the body. It is usually caused by irritation or damage to a nerve or by a problem with the nervous system. Another name for nerve pain is neuralgia (noo-RAL-jah).

Nerve pain can come and go, or it can stay for months or years. It can make even a gentle touch feel painful. This can disrupt a person’s daily life activities, such as sleeping, and can lead to depression or anxiety.


The most common symptoms are:

  • Stabbing or burning pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling

In some cases people may feel muscle weakness or notice changes in the color or temperature of the skin.

When to See a Doctor

Contact your healthcare provider if you have stabbing or burning pain, numbness, or tingling.


Many things can cause nerve pain, such as:

  • Diabetes. Nerve pain by caused by nerve damage from diabetes is called diabetic neuropathy (noo-ROP-uh-thee).
  • Shingles. Nerve pain that arises after a person has shingles is called postherpetic neuralgia (post-her-PET-ik noo-RAL-juh).
  • A nerve disorder, such as trigeminal neuralgia which causes stabbing pain in parts of the face.
  • Infection with a disease such as HIV/AIDS, Lyme disease, or syphilis.
  • Stroke. Nerve pain can arise after a person has a stroke.
  • Certain medicines.
  • Toxic chemicals.
  • Pressure on nerves from bones or tumors.
  • Injury or trauma.

Sometimes the cause of nerve pain is not known.

Diagnosis and Tests

Your healthcare provider will do a physical exam and ask about your symptoms. They may also do:


Treatment for nerve pain depends on the cause of your pain and the symptoms. It may be necessary to try a few different approaches before finding the best treatment for your nerve pain. Treatment can include both medicines and activities.

  • Medicines. These may include medicines used to treat depression or medicines used to treat seizures.
  • Injections (shots) of pain relieving medicine in the spine.
  • Prescription pain medicines called opioids are sometimes used to treat nerve pain. However, these can lead to addiction. Your healthcare provider may not recommend them if there are other ways to manage your pain.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Relaxation therapy.
  • Massage therapy.
  • Acupuncture.

If a medical condition, such as diabetes, is causing your nerve pain, working with your healthcare provider to treat it may improve your pain.

You can also do things at home to help manage nerve pain. These can include:

  • Using heating pads or cold packs, as your healthcare providers advise.
  • Learning relaxation and deep breathing techniques.
  • Staying active.


Because so many things can cause nerve pain, it’s not easy to say how to prevent it.