Knowledge Base

What is neuropathic pain?

Neuropathic pain is pain which occurs as the result of damage or injury to your nervous system. Patients who experience neuropathic pain typically describe it as a burning or cold sensation, ‘pins and needles’, numbness or itching, electrical pain or throbbing. Often neuropathic pain can be more challenging to treat than other types of pain and, in general, the prognosis can be worse than other pain syndromes. When major nerves are injured, it is more likely to result in chronic pain than an injury to non-nervous tissue (like muscles, for example). 

Much pain occurs as a results of physical damage. The tissue injury leads to a nerve response which results in the electrical impulse of pain. This is often referred to as ‘nociceptive pain’, as ‘nociceptors’ are the specialized nerves and receptors throughout the body that respond to an injury. For example, if you trip and scrape a knee, your knee may bruise or cut. The tissue on your knee is damaged, but what’s more, the nociceptors and your peripheral nervous system sends signals to your brain that help indicate pain. Often this type of nociceptive pain may be time limited, for when the injury to the body heals, typically the pain resolves. This nociceptive pain may even be helpful in preventing further injury to the same tissue. 

With neuropathic pain, the pain may be triggered by an injury or malfunction of the nervous system itself (peripheral or central nervous system). Because the problem often resides with the nerves themselves, it is difficult to treat. Many different conditions can be associated with neuropathic pain, including shingles (also known as postherpetic neuralgia), diabetes, stroke, carpal tunnel syndrome, alcohol-related neuropathy, trauma from accident or surgery and many others. The types of treatments for neuropathic pain may also differ from some of the medicines used for nociceptive pain. For example, anticonvulsants and antidepressant medications may be helpful for neuropathic pain; and drugs like opioids may be less helpful.

There are 2 classifications of neuropathic pain: central and peripheral. This distinction is used to describe where the injury or damage to the nervous system has occurred.

Peripheral neuropathic pain indicates damage to the peripheral nervous system and manifests with conditions like DIABETIC NEUROPATHYPOST-HERPETIC NEURALGIA and PHANTOM LIMB PAIN

Central neuropathy can occur after the central nervous system is damaged (i.e., your spinal cord, brain or brain stem).  While less common, these conditions include CENTRAL POST-STROKE PAIN and SYRINGOMYELIA.


Cohen SP, Mao J. Neuropathic pain: mechanisms and their clinical implications. BMJ. 2014 Feb 5;348:f7656. doi: 10.1136/bmj.f7656.

Wikipedia [Internet]. Neuropathic pain [updated 2014 Oct; cited Aug 14]. Available from: