Neuralgia (Peripheral Neuralgia)

Neuralgia is characterized by short, recurring pain in a part of the body or along a specific nerve. The sensation may feel like burning, stabbing or an electric shock. The condition is caused by damage to the peripheral nervous system, beyond the brain or spine, and so is also known as peripheral neuralgia. There are many types of neuralgias, depending upon the nerve or body part affected and the underlying cause. A common type is a facial pain condition (i.e. trigeminal neuralgia).

The pain of neuralgia occurs without stimulation of pain-receptor (nociceptor) cells, and it does not respond well to normal pain medications. The pain stems from a change in structure or function of the painful nerve, possibly due to injury, disease, or compression. Diagnosis of neuralgia may involve tests to locate the damaged nerve by identifying a missing sensory or motor function, such as an electromyography (EMG) test or nerve conduction test.

Medications that may be used for neuralgia include membrane-stabilizing drugs such as gabapentin or antiepileptic medication. The latter slows down electrical impulses in the nerve and reduces its ability to transmit pain. Surgical procedures to temporarily relieve pressure on the nerve or numb it may be considered, if conservative medical treatments are ineffective.

In trigeminal neuralgia, if the pain is due to nerve damage (neuropathic), procedures to decompress or temporarily numb the nerve using heat, chemicals or radiation may not be effective or even increase pain. For these patients, neuromodulation using trigeminal nerve stimulation (a type of peripheral nerve stimulation) or motor cortex stimulation may provide relief.

Reviewed Aug. 20, 2013
Takashi Morishita, MD, PhD
Member, International Neuromodulation Society
Clinical/Research Fellow in Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery
Department of Neurosurgery, University of Florida
McKnight Brain Institute 
Gainesville, FL, USA

Last Updated on Tuesday, April 25, 2017 11:09 AM