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Neurological Disorders That Have Symptoms of Electrical Shock Feelings

by
author image Dr. Tina M. St. John
Tina M. St. John runs a health communications and consulting firm. She is also an author and editor, and was formerly a senior medical officer with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. St. John holds an M.D. from Emory University School of Medicine.
Neurological Disorders That Have Symptoms of Electrical Shock Feelings
The neck and shoulders are common sites for shock-like pain. Photo Credit andriano_cz/iStock/Getty Images

Overview

People experience two main types of pain. Nociceptive pain refers to expected, physiologic pain in response to bodily injury, such as a bruise, sprain, burn, cut or infection. In contrast, neuropathic pain arises when the nerves that transmit pain signals are damaged. The damaged nerves subsequently send inappropriate and often unprovoked pain signals. Sensations associated with neuropathic pain typically include aching, burning, stabbing, tingling and a shock-like feeling. People with neuropathic pain often experience a combination of pain sensations. Several conditions and disorders can give rise to neuropathic pain and shock-like pain.

Burners and Stingers

Trauma to the neck or shoulder can cause temporary nerve irritation commonly known as a burner or stinger. This type of injury involves stretching or compression of nerves that traverse the neck or shoulder. Burners and stingers most often occur due to falls or collisions during contact sports activities, such as football or wrestling. However, sometimes simply twisting your neck the wrong way can lead to this type of nerve irritation. People with a narrow spinal canal, or spinal stenosis, also sometimes experience burners and stingers.

The pain associated with a burner or stinger is typically sudden and severe, with a heat-like or stinging sensation that many describe as similar to an electrical shock. The pain characteristically arises in the neck or shoulder and often radiates down the arm. In most cases, the discomfort lasts a few seconds to minutes. In roughly 5 to 10 percent of cases, the pain persists for hours or days, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Occipital Neuralgia

Occipital neuralgia is a pain disorder caused by irritation or damage to one of the paired occipital nerves, which exit the spine at either side of the base of the skull. Sporadic shock-like or shooting pains occur in conjunction with 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 the pain of occipital neuralgia. 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 disc disease in the neck, diabetes-related nerve damage and tumors that compress the nerves.

Trigeminal Neuralgia

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. Irritation of the nerve by a nearby artery is thought to cause most cases of trigeminal neuralgia. People with this condition 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 several seconds to a few minutes. Trigeminal neuralgia most commonly occurs in people older than 50, with women disproportionately affected. Although trigeminal neuralgia is not life-threatening, the pain attacks can prove disabling.

Multiple Sclerosis

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 surrounds and protects 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 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.

Other Conditions

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.

Warnings and Precautions

A burner or stinger that resolves within a few minutes typically does not require medical treatment. However, if the sensation persists or recurs, see your doctor as soon as possible. Also see your doctor for any shock-like sensations that occur without an obvious cause, especially if accompanied by muscle weakness, tingling or other unusual sensations. While some causes of neuropathic pain cannot be cured, treatment can usually control this uncomfortable and disruptive symptom. Seek urgent medical care if you experience shock-like pain accompanied by any warning signs or symptoms, including:
-- sudden numbness or paralysis
-- loss of coordination
-- dizziness, lightheadedness, confusion or loss of consciousness
-- abnormal sensations on both sides of the body

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