When living with chronic conditions such as neuropathic pain, undertaking foundational self-care practices helps to limit symptoms and improve your ability to live life fully.
Watch and Learn About Neuropathic Pain
Fortunately, these health- and vitality-building practices not only benefit nerve pain, they also usually work to improve any primary condition that is causing it, such as diabetes.
Here are a few ways to help prevent or manage neuropathic pain.
1. Take care of underlying conditions
Because neuropathic pain frequently results from an underlying condition, such as diabetes or an autoimmune condition, taking steps to manage that condition helps to prevent nerve pain.
In the case of diabetes, getting proper treatment and keeping blood sugar levels as consistent as possible will help prevent neuropathic pain or diminish its severity. Meanwhile people with other types of autoimmune disease should stay on top of medications and other doctor-recommended treatments to stay as healthy as possible.
2. Engage in gentle exercise
Walking, riding a bike, or going for a leisurely swim helps to release endorphins, which are brain chemicals that function like natural painkillers. Exercise also gets the heart pumping, nourishing nerves in the extremities with fresh blood and oxygen. Exercising regularly may even promote nerve regeneration because the increased blood flow expands blood vessels in the feet, according to WebMD.
If diabetes is the primary cause of neuropathic pain, exercise will also help by supporting a healthy weight and evening out blood sugar levels. Exercising at moderate levels causes the muscles to increase their intake of glucose by as much as 20 times, according to WebMD.
3. Take vitamin D supplements
Vitamin D works to lower pain levels in people with neuropathic pain, according to research completed at Loyola University. Researchers gave vitamin D supplements to women with type 2 diabetes and depression—the two conditions are closely linked—and found the vitamin alleviated patients’ shooting or burning pain in the legs and feet.
Patients reported a “significant decrease” in pain when surveyed at both the three- and six-month points during the six-month study. During that time, study participants took 50,000 international units (IUs) of vitamin D2 once per week.
The vitamin also helped alleviate what the researchers called sensory pain—numbness and tingling in the legs, hands, and fingers—and symptoms of depression.
4. Add fish oil supplements to your diet
Fish oil is good for the heart, but the same omega-3 fatty acids that promote cardiovascular health also work to prevent or alleviate neuropathic pain from diabetes, according to Mayo Clinic.
The supplements reduce inflammation while improving blood flow. A study published in the Annals of Neurology found that an ingredient in fish oil supplements, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), may prevent or reduce neuropathic pain related to surgery.
5. Experiment with natural oils and ointments
Natural oils such as geranium and evening primrose may be helpful in managing neuropathic pain, according to Mayo Clinic. Taking herbal supplements may interfere with any medications you’re taking, though so it’s best to discuss with a doctor before adding them to your regimen.
You could also rub the oils on your skin. This gives the added benefit of relaxation through smelling pleasant scents.
Sitting quietly while listening to the breath or a guided meditation can do wonders for helping neuropathic pain. Several studies have uncovered meditation’s ability to decrease pain sensitivity, promote relaxation, and improve overall quality of life.
Researchers at the University of Montreal found practitioners of Zen meditation experienced 18% less pain because of decreased pain sensitivity than people who didn’t meditate. Scientists said the study showed that meditation shaped not only a person’s emotional experience of pain, but also their physical experience.
Although the Zen masters analyzed in the study had at least 1,000 hours of meditation experience, other studies show that novice meditators can achieve similar results.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte found that spending one hour over three days to learn meditation techniques provided pain relief. Researcher Fadel Zeidan says:
“Not only did the meditation subjects feel less pain than the control group while meditating, but they also experienced less pain sensitivity while not meditating.”
Guided imagery, another form of meditation, may also reduce pain. This form of meditation involves listening to a person or audio recording as it directs you to imagine a relaxing scene, such as lying on a beautiful beach or in a gently rocking canoe.
7. Avoid alcohol
Alcohol is toxic to the nerves, and can in itself cause neuropathic pain. As many as 50% of heavy, long-term drinkers develop alcoholic neuropathy, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Even if you don’t drink a six-pack a day, alcohol can still cause harm in the body, leading to inflammation and increased pain. Experts generally recommend limiting alcoholic beverages to four per week, according to WebMD.
8. Develop good sleep habits
A good night’s sleep helps to prevent neuropathic pain. For many people with the condition, good habits may help if pain is keeping you up at night.
Behaviors such as going to bed and waking up at the same time every day and creating a relaxing nighttime routine help to make slumber restful. Also consider establishing a cut-off time for electronics since lights from the computer, smart phone, or television screen may interfere with your body’s internal clock and make it difficult to fall asleep.
9. Love your feet
The feet are a common source of neuropathic pain, and a common problem area in the case of diabetes. Damaged nerves frequently leave people unable to feel temperature extremes or pain in the feet, and increase the likelihood that nicks or scrapes go unnoticed. Undetected cuts may become infected and lead to serious problems.
Take care of your feet by looking them over every day to check for scrapes, and then wash and bandage any that appear. Wear comfortable shoes with good support and make regular visits to a podiatrist. Also, keep the feet clean and toenails trimmed at a good length to avoid ingrown toenails.
What lifestyle modifications have you found most helpful for preventing or managing neuropathic pain?
Image by Andris via Flickr