Dave Federline, OT, pain management specialist with the MedStar Cancer Network, discusses causes and treatments for nerve pain:
At MedStar Health, all of our treating physicians understand the importance of managing a cancer patient's daily pain and discomfort. Over many years, advances have been made in treating side effects, such as nausea, nerve pain, and anxiety caused by cancer treatments. Better pain management leads to an improved outlook, which aids the recovery process. A combination of medicine, physical, and holistic therapies are prescribed for patients by pain management specialists.
Conditions treated include:
- Bone metastasis: Cancer, as it spreads, may invade the bones. This metastasis is painful and directly affects a cancer patient's daily pain levels.
- Peripheral nerve injuries: Peripheral nerve injuries can occur because of:
- Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Diabetes-related neuropathy
- Complications of peripheral nerve tumors
- Peripheral neuropathies: Complications of chemotherapy include damage to the peripheral nerves. As more effective treatments for cancer are found and patients are living longer, peripheral neuropathy complications of chemotherapy are increasing and may include sensory disturbances, balance problems, or weakness.
- Post-mastectomy syndrome: This newly recognized pain syndrome affects women who have had mastectomies because of breast cancer. The origin of the pain and nerve damage is thought to come from cutting or damaging the nerves during the surgery to remove the breast and surrounding tissues. Symptoms may include:
- Burning, achy feeling around the breasts and chest
- Frozen shoulder, when there are limits in the rotation of the shoulder and arms
- Tenderness around the area
- Pain and tingling in the scar tissue
- Post-thoracotomy syndrome: Consistent pain, burning, or aching in the general area of the incision that persists at least two months after a thoracotomy. It occurs in approximately 50 percent of patients after thoracotomy and is usually mild or moderate. However, in 5 percent of patients, the pain persists and is severe. The most likely cause is nerve damage to the surrounding tissues, although why this occurs is not known.
Treatment options for these conditions include:
- Integrative medicine (massage, acupuncture, and other forms of holistic medicine)
- Medical management (the use of pain medication)
- Nerve blocks
- Physical therapy
Patients also may be referred to specialists for other forms of therapy. These specialists may include:
- Physical therapists
- Social workers