I was recently asked to talk about neuralgia by one of the members in our group “Ask the Vegan Naturopath”. Whenever my replies are longer than a few paragraphs, I prefer to turn them into blogs.
Neuralgia is nerve pain, tingling and/or pins and needles from inflamed or damaged nerves.
Each client is treated as an individual and remedies are chosen that suit each unique case. The first thing to consider is the underlying cause, if it can be identified. Is the problem being caused by something structural in the musculoskeletal system tied in with injury or bad habits like poor posture and sitting too much? Is it damage caused by too much alcohol or drugs, or by too much glucose in the blood? Other causes might be too much artificial supplemented vitamin B6 or some kind of environment poisoning eg arsenic, mercury, lead, organo-phosphate residues from weed-killers and so on. An example of a nutrient deficiency that might cause nerve pain is vitamin B12 deficiency. Nerve pain can also be caused by infections like shingles. And the list goes on!
Obviously treatment would depend on which of these situations we were dealing with, but in a more general way, when thinking about remedies or approaches that might be used for neuralgia, the sorts of things that come to mind are nervine tonics and sedatives.
Nerve tonics soothe and tone the nervous system, possibly even helping to repair never damage. Some good examples of tonic herbs you might be more familiar with are Oats, Gotu Kola and Saint Johns Wort (also called hypericum). You might add Oats to your daily diet or grow some Gotu Kola and add a few leaves to your daily salads. And in a clinic setting, a naturopath might (as part of a wider treatment program) use topical Hypericum oil on the site of nerve pain, homeopathic Hypericum and/or herbal St John’s Wort in the form of tablets or perhaps as a tincture. I love using tinctures because you can blend one liquid formula composed especially for each client, rather than giving them 5 or 6 different tablets to accomplish the same task.
While a nerve tonic might help with repair, nerve sedatives are calming and soothing, and prevent over-stimulation of nerves. This too, can help with healing, especially when combined with anti-inflammatory herbs. Using herbs you are probably already familiar with, a good example might be Chamomile, which is a nerve-calmer as well as being anti-inflammatory. My favourite herbalist Dorothy Hall swears by Valerian, which is high in magnesium (much like Turmeric and Nettles). One herb you might not have heard of is Californian Poppy, used by Native Americans and Hispanics to promote sleep and relieve pain, especially in children. I’ve got this herb in tincture form but it’s so bitter I’ve never been game to give it to a child! I used it as part of my recovery from a spinal injury, along with anti-inflammatory herbs like Devil’s Claw, Echinacea, Feverfew and Turmeric, varying the blend as I went, in response to changes in the condition as it healed.
Managing stress well, meditating, using creative-visualisation (self-hypnosis), physical therapies (e.g. physiotherapy and therapeutic exercises), getting enough sunlight, sleep and fresh air, are also an important part of the treatment process.
In terms of the broader person-picture, a naturopath might also look at improving digestive health in particular. How well is each digestive organ functioning, we might ask ourselves? First we consider the upper digestive organs such as the stomach and pancreas, then we consider the small and large intestine: is the inner lining of each organ happy, are digestive juices being stimulated, is the bowel flora healthy, and so on. We would also pay special attention to the body’s elimination processes: are the skin, lungs, kidneys and bowel all excreting effectively or is there some kind of congestion occurring?
A whole-foods plant based diet will definitely help. Plant-foods are full of anti-inflammatory and healing nutrients. In your cooking, get generous with thyme, cayenne pepper and turmeric. Add celery to all your salads, use celery sticks to eat dips, or make a celery and lemon, or celery and carrot drink (blended not juiced- keep the fibre). This remedy is particularly helpful for two common causes of neuralgia/neuritis: diabetes and high blood pressure.