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Chronic Pain Vs. Neuropathic Pain

Everyone thinks they know what pain is, and because it’s subjective, they often do. Some have a higher tolerance for pain than others and can plow through it, while others have more problems with everyday life. However, questions and difficulties arise when discussing chronic versus neuropathic pain, its causes, and how it can be treated.

According to the experts at Beaumont Health, there are five kinds of pain to be aware of.

  • Acute pain is normally short and often related to soft tissue injuries.
  • Chronic pain is more prolonged, lasts several months, and often happens because of a health condition.
  • Neuropathic pain is related to problems with the central nervous system.
  • Nociceptive pain is any discomfort related to damaged body tissue.
  • Radicular pain is related to spinal nerve compression or inflammation.

How Are Chronic & Neuropathic Pain Different or Similar?

Pain means something different to everyone. Everyone reacts to it differently, battling various symptoms unique to their condition as they try to live their lives as best as possible. When looking at chronic and neuropathic pain and deciding how they’re different or similar, let’s start with the obvious.

By its very nature, chronic pain is mysterious and long-term and doesn’t necessarily have an identifiable cause. You may think you know what’s causing your leg pain, but if you broke it years ago and nothing’s shown up on x-rays, why does your limb still hurt after all this time? And is a healed broken bone the cause of such long-lasting discomfort?

Chronic pain is normally much longer in duration than other pain and can be constant, occasional, mild, or severe. For instance, headaches can be regarded as chronic when they persist for many months or years – even in the absence of the pain at a particular moment in time. Chronic pain is often caused by a health condition, like arthritis, fibromyalgia, or a spinal problem.

Precise boundaries limit neuropathic pain. Yes, this kind of pain can encompass your entire body, but it’s always confined to problems with the central nervous system – meaning your brain, spine, and nerves outside of them. So, whereas your healthcare provider may work diligently to understand how your central nervous system was damaged or why it’s not working correctly, there remain deep mysteries about the whys and what not – especially related to the brain. 

One of the key goals of researchers everywhere is fully understanding the brain and chronic pain, outside of the fact they’re intimately related. The brain is responsible for sending pain signals throughout the body. How we perceive pain, so one line of thinking is that if medicine and science can figure out how to rewire the brain – teaching it to process pain differently – we may deal with various kinds of pain more effectively. The same, of course, applies to neuropathic pain.

Another way to think of differences and similarities is this. Neuropathic or nerve pain relates to inflammation, irritation, and other issues with the central nervous system not associated with a physical problem. Nociceptive pain, also considered chronic pain, relates to how your body reacts to physical stress, like a muscle strain or a broken bone. However, in both cases, the pain can be near-debilitating and severely affect the quality of life.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Diagnosing and treating pain from either condition follows similar but different paths.

For nerve pain, you can expect to undergo a:

  • Complete medical examination. This is to document your problem and symptoms when the pain happens and related details. You may also be asked about your personal and family medical history and if you know of any specific causes.
  • The neurological examination involves your healthcare provider checking tendons, muscle strength and tone, how you react to certain sensations, and posture and coordination level.

Diagnosing chronic pain is slightly different. A clinician will inquire about medical history and want as much detail as possible (where the pain is located, intensity on a scale of one to 10, how often it happens, its effect on your quality of life, and other information), and suggest using blood tests, x-rays, and other procedures to uncover the source of your pain.

In either case, the best form of treatment is normally an integrated approach. This may involve physical or occupational therapy, psychological counseling, prescription or over-the-counter pain medicine, self-help strategies, diet and lifestyle changes, and treatment like ketamine therapy.


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