What Triggers Nerve Pain?

What Triggers Nerve Pain? With more than 7 trillion nerves located throughout the human body, nerve pain is a very common problem with a wide array of possible triggers. Nerve pain—also known as neuropathy—occurs when a nerve is irritated or damaged and currently has more than 50 known causes, with more still undiscovered. Some of the most common causes of nerve pain include:


Did you know that nerve pain affects more than 50% of people with diabetes? Diabetics often experience numbness or tingling sensations in the hands and feet, sometimes along with burning or sharp pain (diabetic neuropathy).

Autoimmune Diseases

Autoimmune diseases—or diseases that cause the immune system to attack the body—including lupus, vasculitis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome—may lead to nerve pain.


Some bacterial and viral infections are associated with nerve pain, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Epstein-Barr virus (the virus that causes mononucleosis), diphtheria and hepatitis.


Injuries such as those sustained in sports, falls or car accidents can result in nerve compression (“pinched” nerves) or nerve damage that triggers pain. Degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis may also irritate nerves and result in neuropathy.

Other Causes

Other common causes of nerve pain include:

  • Certain inherited disorders, including Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
  • Tumors
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Vitamin B deficiency
  • Celiac disease
  • Lyme disease
  • Exposure to heavy metals, industrial chemicals and other toxins
  • Certain medications, including chemotherapy, isoniazid and HIV drugs
  • Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • Bone marrow disorders

For some patients, the cause of nerve pain cannot be identified. Unexplained nerve pain is known as idiopathic neuropathy.

What Does Nerve Pain Feel Like?

Nerve pain is characterized by a stabbing, burning or shooting pain that may travel to other areas of the body. It may come and go and is often accompanied by numbness and tingling sensations. The severity and location of nerve pain will vary according to what nerve is damaged and its pathway, which enables nerve signals to be sent from one area of the body to another.

For example, sciatica is one of the most widespread types of nerve pain. It occurs when the sciatic nerve—the longest and largest nerve in the body that runs from the base of the spine down to both feet—becomes compressed by a surrounding vertebra or spinal disc. This can result in shooting pain, numbness and tingling sensations throughout the lower body.

Our Approach to Nerve Pain

Tufts Medical Center Community Care is pleased to offer specialized nerve pain treatment to patients throughout north suburban Boston. A multispecialty medical group and clinical affiliate of Tufts Medical Center and MelroseWakefield Hospital, our practice features a team of skilled neurologists who utilize the latest advancements in neurological care. These neurologists also collaborate with general practitioners, rheumatologists, endocrinologists and other experts within our health system as necessary to ensure thoughtfully coordinated treatment for patients with complex cases of nerve pain.

To learn more about nerve pain treatment at Tufts Medical Center Community Care or to schedule an appointment with a neurologist, contact our friendly team today. We will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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