Understanding The Difference Between Nerve Pain and Muscle Pain

doctor holding model of spine
Defining and Treating Cervical Radiculopathy
February 20, 2017
close up of opioid pills on table
Opioid Related Deaths Might Be Underestimated: CDC
April 27, 2017
Show all

Understanding The Difference Between Nerve Pain and Muscle Pain

man holding shoulder with diagram of muscles and nerves

Nerve pain and muscle pain may seem similar. But when examined more closely, their differences demonstrate how one type of pain does truly compare to the other.

How nerve pain happens

Think of nerves as the electrical lines that make up the central nervous system. They connect your brain to your body, helping both connect and communicate. Just like wires that can short circuit, nerves can become damaged or injured and stop working the way they should. A broken nerve begins sending wrong signals to the brain. For example, it might tell your brain that your foot is burning even when you aren’t doing anything that could be causing the sensation.

What nerve pain feels like

Ironically, nerve pain isn’t often described as “painful.” Other more specific descriptors are used, including:

  • Numbness
  • Burning
  • Tingling
  • “Pins and Needles”
  • Stabbing sensation
  • Electric-shock pain

How to recognize the difference between nerve and muscle pain

Some people may think they have a pulled muscle when in fact the pain stems from nerve damage. Consider the following differences:

  • Muscle pain is usually caused by a physical injury
  • Once an injury heals, muscle pain subsides (nerve pain often lingers)
  • Muscle pain is described as sore and achy, but nerve pain is described in other more specific ways
  • Pain medicine provides relief to muscle pain but not nerve pain


Many options exist for treating nerve pain such as exercise, relax techniques, setting manageable goals and utilizing nerve pain medication and treatment options. Schedule an appointment with a physician to discuss your medical history and diagnosis and learn what options may work best for you.