Difference Between Nerve Pain and Muscle Pain

Nerve pain and muscle pain present the same. Without a proper clinical history and examination it is difficult to differentiate between the two. Therefore, they may be very confusing. Doctors can easily differentiate between the two by assessing the characteristics of the pain.

Nerve Pain

Nerve pain is a broad term encompassing many pain mechanisms. The commonest way we feel pain is with sensory nerves. There are four main simple sensations. They are pain, temperature, light touch, and firm pressure. These sensations are carried to the brain along nerve pathways called spino-thalamic tracts. Complex sensations like two-point discrimination, vibration, and stereo gnosis are carried to the brain in the dorsal column. There are specific sensory endings in the skin which perceive such sensations. This type of pain sensation can be categorized as a type of nerve pain. Chemicals like prostaglandin can directly stimulate pain transmitting nerves bypassing the actual sensor in the skin. This is another type of nerve pain. Some chronic diseases like diabetes mellitus alter the condition of nerves all over the body. This is called neuropathy. Diabetes can cause multiple types of neuropathies. Peripheral neuropathy is where there is tingling sensation or pain at limb extremities in the area covered by gloves and stockings. Autonomic neuropathy is where there is poor involuntary control of body mechanisms. Sensory polyneuropathy is where there is abnormal sensation along any nerve; excruciating pain is one presentation. Motor polyneuropathy affects movement. Mononeuritis multiplex affects many nerves at different locations at once. This is another type of nerve pain. Nutritional abnormalities like folate deficiency may cause abnormal sensations, as well.

Nerve pain does not respond to simple pain killers and may need specific drugs like Gabapentin. Physiotherapy may be helpful but unless the root cause is removed nerve pains usually linger for a long time.

Muscle Pain

Muscle pains are mostly due to trauma. Lifting a weight at an abnormal posture, overextension and over-flexion are common mechanisms of muscular trauma. There may be difficulty of movement. Affected muscle may be painful to touch. There may external signs of injury and inflammation like warmth and redness. If the force of the trauma is severe enough or if there are pathologically weak bones, there may be an underlying fracture. X rays and ultrasound scans are diagnostic. If there are no fractures or major wound, simple pain killers and rest will be all that are needed. Severe muscle wounds heal with scarring or by replacing damaged tissue with healthy tissue. Injured muscles release chemicals like prostaglandin which cause severe pain.

What is the difference between Nerve Pain and Muscle Pain?

• Nerve pain may occur due to multiple causes such as metabolic syndrome and nutritional deficiencies while muscle pain is post traumatic.

• Nerve pain may not respond to simple painkillers while muscle pain does.

• Nerve pain is more long lasting than muscle pain.


Also, read the Difference Between Acute and Chronic Pain