If you’re between 30 and 65 years old, you may be among the 10 percent of U.S. adults who struggle with neuropathic pain. If you’re older, it could be even worse, affecting mobility, lifestyle, and your overall health. Neuropathic pain, often caused by nerve injury, regularly affects older adults.
What Is Neuropathic Pain?
You may experience neuropathic pain if your nervous system is injured or not functioning correctly. The pain can emanate from any of the numerous levels of your nervous system, like the peripheral nerves, brain, or spinal cord. The spinal cord and the brain make up the central nervous system, while the peripheral nerves fan throughout the remainder of your body to places like arms, legs, organs, fingers, and toes.
Pain And Older Adults
Neuropathic pain can happen at any age but worsens the older you get and is especially problematic for adults 65 and older. It has many potential causes but is present in about 30 percent of those who struggle with diabetes. Many activities become more difficult or cumbersome as you age because of neuropathic pain.
Activity limitations due to neuropathic pain
- Activity and Exercise. Restricting movement because of pain is a natural tendency, but when it is persistent, it becomes counterproductive and can trigger more pain. In the case of older adults, that often means less physical activity to lower the risk of falling and getting hurt – a sedentary lifestyle that may lead to weight gain, diabetes, and other medical problem.
- Neuropathic pain is often chronic, and one study showed that 42 percent of “middle-aged and older adults” experienced sleep problems as a result. Persistent sleep deprivation presents other issues, too, like daytime sleepiness and the inability to stay active due to weariness.
- Mood issues – depression, sadness, irritability, self-isolation – are another byproduct of neuropathic pain and nerve injury. According to Kern A. Olson, Ph.D., many older adults with chronic pain struggle with these challenges, and they often go untreated because older adults tend to “understate” their symptoms.
Symptoms related to neuropathic pain can be treated, often with therapy, self-help, medicine, or ketamine.
Age & Neuropathic Pain/Nerve Injury
According to the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, “Many common neuropathic pain syndromes are more prevalent in the older population, and older adults also carry greater sensitivity to certain side effects. The health care professional should have a thorough familiarity with all medications available to treat this difficult group of disorders.”
Causes of neuropathic pain
- You may have neuropathic pain due to alcoholism.
- Diabetes may trigger neuropathic pain symptoms.
- Facial nerve problems are known to cause neuropathic pain.
- HIV infection or AIDS can trigger neuropathic pain.
- Specific central nervous system illnesses can result in neuropathic pain, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke.
- Complex regional pain syndrome, affecting nearly 200,000 people each year, can trigger neuropathic pain.
- Shingles and their after-pain called postherpetic neuralgia.
- Neuropathic pain is a struggle for someone using certain chemotherapy drugs like cisplatin, paclitaxel, vincristine, etc.
- Radiation therapy.
- Spinal nerve inflammation or compression.
- A traumatic event or surgery with resultant nerve damage.
- Nerve compression or tumors.
Symptoms of neuropathic pain
- Steady beginning of numbness, prickling, or tingling in lower extremities may spiral upward and reach your legs and arms.
- Sharp, prodding, throbbing, or burning sensation.
- Heightened sensitivity to touch.
- Pain during activities that shouldn’t trigger pain.
- Poor coordination and falling.
- Muscle frailty.
- Feeling the weight of gloves or socks when you’re not wearing either.
- Immobility if motor nerves are impacted.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health says that “Neuropathic pain occurs in about 1 in every ten adults over age 30.”
Diagnosis & Treatment
Your healthcare provider will review your own and your family’s medical history and perform a physical exam to root out the cause of your pain. If your doctor ascertains or suspects it’s caused by nerve injury, they will acknowledge that you’re experiencing typical neuropathic pain symptoms. Your healthcare provider will then attempt to find the underlying source of the neuropathic pain and trace the symptoms. There may be tests and diagnostic procedures, like blood work, x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging, and others.
Upon diagnosing neuropathic pain, your doctor may recommend therapy, generic or prescription pain relievers, or medicine like ketamine.
Neuropathic pain can happen to anyone experiencing nerve injury due to illness, injury, or another condition. While it can affect anyone regardless of age, it tends to be more pronounced and noticeable in older Americans. If you suffer from such pain, talk to your doctor about available treatment options.