Neuropathy is pain that results from damage or pathological changes to the peripheral or central nervous system. The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord, while the peripheral nervous system is made up of the many smaller nerves that branch out from the spinal cord. Damage to any of these nerve tissues can result in neuropathy. Neuropathy is one of the most common causes of chronic pain.
Chronic pain associated with neuropathy is not indicative of an underlying injury; rather, the pain itself is the disease. Instead of communicating an injury located elsewhere in the body, the nerves themselves malfunction and are the source of pain.
According to the National Pain Foundation, about four million people in the United States suffer from neuropathic pain. The most common cause of neuropathic pain is pain from spine disorders.
Symptoms caused by neuropathy are described as severe, sharp and shooting or deep and burning pain; or persistent numbness, tingling or weakness that travels into the arms, hands, legs or feet. Neuropathy can also be characterized by pain resulting from light touch or another stimulus that does not typically cause pain as well as hypersensitivity to other stimuli.
Pain, including back pain, is one of the top issues challenging patients on a daily basis and is the most common reason Americans seek assistance from the health care system, greatly contributing to health care costs. Just recently, the U.S. House of Representative’s Energy and Commerce Committee approved the National Pain Care Policy Act of 2009.
The bill seeks to make pain a public health priority in a number of ways: by pushing to expand research on causes and treatments for pain, by providing comprehensive pain care education and training for health care professionals and by creating a national public awareness campaign on pain management, among other things. Supporters hope the bill will bring much needed focus to research, education, training and care of neuropathic pain.