Show Summary Details
Page of


Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD MEDICINE ONLINE ( © Oxford University Press, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Medicine Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 12 December 2019

Pain signalled by a normal sensory system, nociceptive pain, serves a vital protective function. The peripheral and central nervous somatosensory systems permit rapid localization and identification of the nature of painful stimuli, prior to appropriate action to minimize or avoid potentially tissue damaging events. A reduction or absence of pain resulting from neurological disease emphasizes the importance of this normal protective function of pain. For example, tissue destruction occurs frequently in peripheral nerve diseases which cause severe sensory loss such as leprosy, and in central disorders such as syringomyelia. Neuropathic pain results from damage to somatosensory pathways and serves no protective function. This chapter provides an overview of neuropathic pain, considering its context, clinical features, pathophysiology, and treatment.

In the peripheral nervous system, neuropathic pain is caused by conditions affecting small nerve fibres, and in the central nervous system by lesions of the spinothalamic tract and thalamus, and rarely by subcortical and cortical lesions. The clinical feature common to virtually all conditions leading to the development of neuropathic pain is the perception of pain in an area of sensory impairment, an apparently paradoxical situation. The exception is trigeminal neuralgia.

Neuropathic pain is heterogeneous clinically, aetiologically, and pathophysiologically. Within a given diagnostic category, whether defined clinically or aetiologically, there are wide variations in reports of pain by patients. This heterogeneity poses one of the greatest challenges in understanding the mechanisms of neuropathic pain. Knowledge of the pathophysiology is an obvious pre-requisite to the development of effective treatments. The goal of a pathophysiologically based understanding of the symptoms and signs of neuropathic pain is, of course, just such a rational and specific approach to treatment. While this is not yet achievable, clinical-pathophysiological correlations have led to some recent advances in treatment.

Access to the complete content on Oxford Medicine Online requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts for each book and chapter without a subscription.

Please subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.

For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.