Objective: An overview is presented of neuropathic pain syndromes, their characteristic symptoms and signs, and recent approaches to identifying their pathophysiologic mechanisms.
Design: The results of recent clinical studies of neuropathic pain are reviewed. Chronic neuropathic pain syndromes are emphasized because these long-lasting and often disabling conditions present a much greater challenge for the clinician than acute pain. Peripheral neuropathic syndromes have received greater attention in the research literature than central pain, and studies of syndromes such as postherpetic neuralgia and painful diabetic neuropathy provide the basis for current knowledge of neuropathic pain.
Conclusions: Precise estimates of the prevalence of neuropathic pain are not available, but chronic neuropathic pain may be much more common than has generally been appreciated and its prevalence can be expected to increase in the future. There is considerable agreement that both peripheral and central processes contribute to many chronic neuropathic pain syndromes, and that these different mechanisms may explain the qualitatively different symptoms and signs that patients experience. The limitations of existing treatments for neuropathic pain and the inability to provide relief for many patients has stimulated ongoing studies that examine different approaches to preventing neuropathic pain.