Nerve Pain - Neuralgia

I have worked with many people who suffer from chronic nerve pain (neuralgia) for one reason or another and I have seen three particular strategies in particular provide great help to this problem time and again. These are described in detail below.

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Finding a good herbalist

Much of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that you need further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist or truly holistic practitioner to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

Release physical pressure on the nerves

Physical pressure on the nerves is such a common cause of nerve pain that it should be assumed to be playing a significant role unless there is strong evidence to the contrary. Classical pinched nerve conditions like carpal tunnel or ‘wry neck’ are well known examples but this can equally be the core issue in lumbago and many other types of neuralgias. Releasing physical pressure on the nerves can effectively be done through both heating/cooling therapy as well as hands-on work.


Heating/Cooling therapy

Using both heating and cooling therapies to relieve painful swelling is a tried and true strategy and should provide much relief to chronic nerve pain. Modern conventional medicine takes half of this equation (the ice-pack etc.) but, somewhat inexplicably leaves out the equally important heating part of the treatment. In fact you should start with heat first and then go to the cold side.

To explain why this is and why you should use heat in the first place I need to say something about inflammation because it is something that is widely misunderstood and quite harmfully so. Inflammation literally means 'a fire within' and it is quite scary in itself because it hurts and it will often look bad and it is the main reason why there will be swelling leading to nerve pain from pressure. I think anyone can understand why reducing the inflammation (and therefore the swelling) might help so why would we possibly want to add heat to it at all?

It is vital to understand that the body does things for a reason and that inflammation is an absolutely essential part of a healing process whereby damaged or diseased tissue is able to be broken down and removed before new and healthy tissue can replace it. Everyone has some degree of inflammation happening in their body all the time because we are constantly wearing down and renewing our body tissues and none of that can happen without there being some essential inflammation to drive it along.

The problem occurs when we get an inflammation that gets caught and doesn't move forwards to the next stage of healing (by the way in old terminology this was called 'stuck heat' as this was literally how it was understood and experienced). What we are doing with bringing heat to an already inflamed and swollen area is to help the body achieve what it is painfully trying to do already. The heat will certainly add to the inflammation but only at first and very temporarily because we then follow it with the cooling phase of the treatment.
The proof, like anything is in the pudding. This method will usually give great relief and, most importantly, help a chronic problem to start to become unstuck!

How you apply heat will depend on the body part affected. I am a big fan of wheat bags but using a hot compress (a towel soaked in reasonably hot water and applied to the area with another towel over the top of it) or simply soaking a body part in hot water are all equally viable options. The main thing is to get enough heat to the affected area that you can really feel it penetrating in and getting the blood moving. Once the affected part has become nice and hot you then swing to the other side of the treatment and put something like an ice-pack, or a cold compress (made by soaking a towel in icy water and again applying to the affected area with a towel over the top of it) or again by using a bucket with very cold water in it. The time to do the cooling phase is generally much shorter than the hot side of things but again you need to observer your own body rather than a clock to get this right. The cold should have penetrated enough for there to be some numbness i.e. you get it very cold!

Then, in most cases, you should swing right back over to the hot side again and repeat this cycle once over! I say most cases because in some instances just doing the one heating and cooling cycle will be sufficient but, especially if you have a long standing problem, it will be much better to send a second wave of both heat and cooling through the system. Rather like how it is helpful to rinse a dirty dish after firstly giving it a scrub, the second wave helps to further flush away the metabolites and by-products of inflammation and so further relieve the pressure on the nerves.

How often you repeat the heating and cooling therapy has to be dictated by the urgency and severity of the condition. This is not a treatment that carries any risk of harm from over-use. I suggest listening to your instincts and your own body for how often to do the treatment.


Hands-on work.

This will not be appropriate for every case of neuralgia but I would say that in most cases there will be every reason to go to some trouble to find a person who is skilled in hands-on work to do the kind of massage and/or adjustments that give your body a chance to reset its structure. The name that such a person gives their method (e.g. chiropractic, osteopathic, neuromuscular therapist, massage therapist) is of secondary importance, what matters is that they are very good at what they do and will give their best effort to help you.


If necessary, give the system a cleanse

I have met with and worked with many people who suffer from chronic neuralgia and whilst I don't suppose this must be true for all people I have often noticed in my own patients a) a typical pattern of a discoloured coating on their tongue and b) an analysis of their blood under the microscope that has shown a picture of it being overly sticky and laden with excess debris. These are both sure signs of excess toxicity and I don't know whether this might have been one of the causes of the neuralgia or rather it is an effect from having had it for a while but in any case I am sure that it is a very important part of the cure to give the whole system a good clean.

I suggest you might benefit from closely looking at your own tongue in this regard and, especially if you notice it being more coated or discoloured when your symptoms are worse, then to consider that this may indeed be something you very much need to attend to whilst curing your neuralgia.

When it is actually needed, cleansing and detoxification is an extremely important part of the healing process but it is a subject that is rife with myths and misconceptions and if you think that it may be an issue for you personally then I firstly recommend you read my article on the general subject here. The correct use of the right herbs is essential to effective cleansing and if it is at all possible for you to visit with a good herbalist to help this then do so but if that is not achievable then I can still confidently recommend the Juniper and Celandine cleanse as an economic way to ensure you are getting the process activated as necessary and this treatment is written up in detail here. Lastly a cleansing diet has to be undertaken for this to all work quickly and properly but this is nothing that has proven too hard for people to undertake and the method for this that I have used a great many times is written up here.

Juniperus communis (Juniper berry)


Use herbs that relax and nourish the nervous system

Anyone that has had any kind of nerve pain for any length of time should use some herbal medicine to both relax and nourish their nerves. Note that most herbalists will use a combination of more than one remedy at the same time. In my own practice If this is a problem that has affected you to any serious degree then it is quite likely that you have gone into conventional medicine to see what could be done to diagnose what was wrong and have likely received some treatment as a result. In the first stages people are usually given anti-inflammatory drugs (to reduce the swelling on the nerves) if this doesn't help then they are typically given even stronger anti-inflammatories in the form of steroids and if these don't help then the next step is to use nerve blocking agents such as tri-cyclic anti-depressants or similar kinds of drugs.

I have met a lot, and I really mean a lot, of people who have been down these tracks with no lasting benefit and little more than a very dull head to show for it. I suppose these approaches must help some people but I obviously don't meet those who it helps and I guess that is why I have quite a dim view of their effectiveness! I just don't think you will cure many chronic problems without doing something about their cause. Physical pressure on nerves or sticky blood with a need for cleansing are big factors in a person's health picture so both those avenues clearly do bear good results. Lastly I am a strong advocate for using medicines that have a relaxing effect on strained nervous tissue and herbs that help to strengthen and support a nervous system that will have undoubtedly been under considerable strain if it has been registering pain signals for any length of time.

Valeriana officinalis (Valerian)


Valerian & Cramp Bark

Other herbalists will no doubt have their own favourites but for relaxing the nerves I find the generous use of Valerian to be especially helpful - a detailed write up on it here and likewise the potent herb Cramp bark can be extremely helpful when used in the right way and in sufficient doses - all written up in practical detail here.

St John's and Withania

For nourishing the nerves the great St John's wort (more here) can be highly beneficial but, like any medicine, it will not be ideal for everyone and another particularly safe and widely useful herb to nourish the nerves is the Ayurvedic tonic Withania (more here).


For many of my patients with nerve pain I have also used strong doses of Skullcap in either tea or tincture form - if you have not heard of it or tried it then it may be of much benefit to put it to the test for yourself. This herb could be described as both relaxing and nourishing and has been seen to be of great help to people I have personally worked with who have bad neuralgia - more here.

Californian Poppy

Lastly I want to mention this wonderful herbal remedy for pain (a detailed write up on it is found here). Californian poppy is not the only 'pain' herb (Corydalis and Jamaican dogwood are two other notable examples) but it is one that I have a particular affinity with and have seen to be of sincere help in neuralgia amongst other painful conditions. You can't think of Californian poppy as like a kind of natural drug, it is not going to take away inflammation or greatly reduce sensation but what it does do is deeply relax the nerves in a kind of calming and soothing way that helps pain to become a lot less intolerable. Try to get it from a herbalist if you possibly can and do use it freely (it is very safe) and then I think you will develop your own confidence in its ability to help but don't ignore at least some of the other deep-acting herbs and strategies I am suggesting you use. Chronic neuralgia poses its own unique set of challenges but it is like other problems in that the more holistic you are in your approach to its healing the higher will be your likelihood of success - good luck!

Eschscholtzia californica (Californian poppy)


Constitutional Health Note

Finally, you might benefit from learning about your constitution to know what kind of foods, herbs, exercises etc. will work especially well for your health in general as well as what might potentially help your current troubles with nerve pain. As it happens the majority of the patients I have personally worked with who have had this problem have been the dryer constitutions, the Eagles & the EBs (Elephant/Butterflies) but in any case there is a brief introduction to this great subject here and a more detailed section on working out which constitution you are here.

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd