People can experience two types of pain. "Normal" pain in response to bodily injury, such as a bruise, sprain or burn, is called nociceptive pain. In contrast, neuropathic pain arises when the nerves that transmit pain signals are damaged. Sensations associated with neuropathic pain typically include aching, burning, stabbing or an electrical shock feeling. People with neuropathic pain often experience a combination of pain sensations. Several neurological disorders can give rise to neuropathic pain.
Trigeminal neuralgia, or tic douloureux, is a chronic neuropathic pain disorder characterized by episodes of sudden, severe facial pain. Pain arises from the trigeminal nerve, which carries sensory messages to and from the face. People with trigeminal neuralgia describe their pain as an excruciating shock-like or burning sensation on one side of the lower face, cheek or jaw or around the eye. A pain attack typically lasts from several seconds to a few minutes. Trigeminal neuralgia most commonly occurs in people older than age 50, with women disproportionately affected. Although trigeminal neuralgia is not a life-threatening disorder, the pain attacks can prove disabling.
Occipital neuralgia is a pain disorder caused by irritation or damage to the occipital nerves. Sporadic shock-like or shooting pains occur in conjunction with continuous burning, aching or throbbing pain that begins at the nape of the neck and radiates upward over the back of the head. Pain may also occur on the side of the head or behind the eye. Certain types of neck movement may provoke pain. Possible causes of irritation or injury to the occipital nerves include trauma to the back of the head, chronic neck muscle tension, arthritis of the spine bones of the neck, degenerative disk disease in the neck, diabetes-related nerve damage and tumors that compress the nerves.
Multiple sclerosis is a chronic neurological condition characterized by inflammation of the nerves of the brain and body. The disease process leads to loss of myelin, a substance that insulates the nerves and aids in the transmission of nerve signals. People with multiple sclerosis may have abnormalities of the pain nerves, which can lead to shock-like, shooting, burning or stabbing sensations. Lhermitte's sign -- an electrical shock sensation that radiates down the spine with bending the head toward the chest -- is a classic symptom of multiple sclerosis. People with multiple sclerosis may also experience symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia.
Many other conditions can cause neuropathic pain that may feel like electrical shocks. For example, people with diabetes or HIV, and those who have been treated with chemotherapy for cancer sometimes develop nerve damage known as peripheral neuropathy. A bout of shingles can lead to persistent pain at the site of the rash, which can also resemble an electrical shock. Some hereditary nervous system disorders can also cause this troublesome symptom.
- The Merck Manual Professional Edition: Neuropathic Pain
- The Merck Manual Professional Edition: Trigeminal Neuralgia
- American Family Physician: Diagnosis and Management of Multiple Sclerosis
- The Merck Manual for Professional Edition: Pain, Introduction
- Current Neuropharmacology: Painful Peripheral Neuropathies