Finding the Right Solution for Nerve Pain Through Palliative Care

By Andrew Esch, MD

If you are living with a serious illness that involves severe or persistent nerve pain, you know that it can take a toll on your quality of life. The pain can prevent you from everyday activities and doing things you enjoy. It can cause depression and anxiety. But it doesn’t have to be this way. While no single treatment works for everyone, there are ways to manage nerve pain to help get you back to living as fully as possible.

Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness. It focuses on relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness, including pain. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is provided by a specially-trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment.

Palliative Care for Nerve Pain

Nerve pain, which is also known as neuropathic pain or neuropathy, can be related to cancer and its treatments or to diabetes, kidney disease and other illnesses. It can also be the result of an accident or injury. It’s caused by damage to the nerves or to the nervous system. The damage can produce a kind of misfiring, where the brain receives pain signals when there is no cause for pain. You may feel burning, tingling, sharp or stabbing pain, or a combination of these sensations. The pain may be there all the time, or it may come and go. 

Treatments for nerve pain include medications and other therapeutic approaches. You may need to try several different treatments and approaches to find the combination that works best for you. Medications can include antidepressants, for example, because they work on the areas of the brain that process pain, or anti-seizure medications, which calm overactive nerves. Complementary therapies that may help include relaxation techniques, biofeedback, massage, acupuncture or working with a therapist. 

While it can be frustrating that there is no quick and easy solution, your palliative care team is in the ideal position to help with a specialized treatment plan. They have in-depth training in pain and symptom management, so they can connect you to all available options. They work closely with you to test the range of therapies and find what works best for you. And they stay in contact with your other doctors about all of your medical needs and treatments. 

Get Palliative Care

You can learn more about palliative care for nerve pain by watching this webinar. If you live with severe or persistent nerve pain, ask your doctor about a palliative care referral. Palliative care is available in most hospitals and is growing quickly in outpatient clinics. In some areas, palliative care teams are available for home visits. You can also look for palliative care resources in this Provider Directory. 

Dr. Esch is medical education consultant to the Center to Advance Palliative Care. A palliative care specialist, Dr. Esch focuses on improving quality of life for patients and their families as they face serious illness. Dr. Esch earned his medical degree from the University of Buffalo.


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