Anyone familiar with Lyme disease knows that the condition comes with a whole host of bothersome (and often debilitating) symptoms. But can Lyme disease cause pain? It turns out that some of the symptoms associated with Lyme can indeed be quite painful, including headaches, muscle and joint aches and pains, nerve pain, and shooting pains in the hands and feet. Keep reading to learn more about Lyme disease pain and some possible treatment options.
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease was originally named after a place called Lyme, Connecticut where a group of adults and children started developing similar symptoms (rash, extreme fatigue, etc.) in the 1970s. Over the next decade, the Lyme bacteria got its official name (Borrelia burgdorferi) from a researcher named Willy Burgdorfer, who discovered and then further studied the connection between tick bites and these symptoms. Ticks tend to be the most common carrier for the bacteria, transmitting it when they feed off animals or humans. Scientists have continued to study the condition over the years, and with more awareness, more accurate diagnoses and an increasing tick population, the number of cases of Lyme disease has continued to grow around the world. Some common symptoms of early Lyme disease (that take place within the first three to 30 days after a tick bite) include:
- Red, bullseye rash (also called the erythema migrans rash) typically at the site of the tick bite (but can appear anywhere on the body)
- Flu-like symptoms, including fever, chills, headache and general malaise
- Extreme fatigue
- Muscle and joint aches
- Swollen lymph nodes
Symptoms do vary from person to person (and not everyone will develop the rash). Lyme disease is currently treated with a course of antibiotics.
Chronic Lyme disease occurs when the condition is not diagnosed and treated right away or when a patient does not respond to antibiotics (also known as Post Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome or PTLDS). More severe symptoms can develop during this stage (which can be months to years after the initial tick bite), such as:
- Facial palsy
- Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling
- Pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones
- Heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Nerve pain
Some patients can also experience inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, cognitive and memory defects, and sleep disturbances. It appears that PTLDS affects the body’s tissue even after the infection has been cleared, similar to an autoimmune disorder. Further antibiotics can sometimes be used to treat this, but they’re not always effective in every case.
Is Lyme disease painful?
Lyme disease can be very painful for some patients. Each individual might not experience pain since symptoms can vary between people, but it’s common for there to be some painful symptoms present. People might wonder, ‘What do Lyme disease headaches feel like?’ and this also varies between patients. Some might feel a headache similar to a migraine with sharp, shooting pain, while others experience it as a constant, throbbing sensation.
Many also ask the question ‘Does Lyme disease make your joints hurt?’ and it certainly can. The infection often affects joints, which causes them to swell and be very painful. This can occur especially with larger joints like the knees. This pain can often be migratory, meaning it moves from one joint in the body to another, and may also go away and then reappear randomly at other times. Another painful occurrence related to Lyme disease is meningitis. So, what does Lyme meningitis feel like? Patients tend to experience severe headaches and painful neck stiffness during the chronic stage of Lyme infection.
How is pain managed for Lyme patients?
Pain can be managed in a number of different ways for Lyme patients. Some doctors will recommend topical anti-inflammatory agents and topical anaesthetics such as lidocaine to help with joint or muscle pain. There are also options like acetaminophen, muscle relaxants, neuropathic drugs and opioid analgesics if other meds are ineffective in treating severe pain. Some patients choose electromagnetic measures for pain relief; these can include acupuncture, ultrasound, radio wave, infrared or laser treatments.
What holistic treatments can patients try to help ease Lyme-related pain?
Along with medicinal measures, there are other steps Lyme disease patients can take to try to get some pain relief. These can include trying out an anti-inflammatory diet to help with inflamed, painful joints, as well as exercise options such as water aerobic exercises and range of motion exercises that can help with joint pain. Some Lyme disease patients also find relief with hot baths, water therapy, cooling or heating pads and naturopathic headache remedies (essential oils, cold compresses, magnesium or B-complex vitamin supplements, etc.). In order to cope with severe pain, individuals can also try out yoga and meditation to help learn how to be more mindful and deal with their pain.
While Lyme disease can certainly be painful, it doesn’t have to stop Lyme patients from fully living their lives. Hopefully, with appropriate medical intervention and the use of some natural, holistic treatment methods, individuals with Lyme disease can still lead flourishing lives.