A pinched nerve occurs when too much pressure is applied to a nerve by surrounding tissues. These tissues can include bones, cartilage, muscles or tendons, and the pressure they place on the nerve can damage its function and lead to pain, tingling, numbness or general weakness in the area.
In most cases, rest and other conservative treatments can help you recover from a pinched nerve in a few days or weeks. In serious cases, more invasive treatment will be required. Here’s a look at how to determine whether your pain is from a pinched nerve and how to manage it.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of a pinched nerve include:
- • Numbness or decreased sensation in the area supplied by the nerve
- • Sharp, aching or burning pain that may radiate outward
- • Paresthesia—tingling, pins and needles sensation
- • Muscle weakness in the area
- • Regular feeling as if a foot or hand has fallen asleep
In some cases, these symptoms worsen during sleep. If symptoms last for several days and do not respond to self-care measures like rest and over-the-counter pain medication, see your doctor for more advanced treatment methods.
How They Happen
A pinched nerve takes place when too much pressure is applied to a nerve by bone, cartilage, muscles or tendons. There are several factors that may cause one or more of these tissues to compress a nerve or nerves:
- • Injury
- • Rheumatoid or wrist arthritis
- • Stress from repetitive work or movements
- • Hobbies or sports
- • Obesity
A nerve pinched for a short time won’t generally cause any permanent damage, and nerve function can typically return to normal once pressure is relieved. If pressure sustains, however, it can lead to chronic pain and permanent nerve damage.
There are several factors that can increase your risk of a pinched nerve:
- • Gender: Women are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition where a variety of tissues might be responsible for compressing the carpal tunnel’s median nerve.
- • Bone spurs: Caused by trauma or conditions that lead to bone thickening, bone spurs can stiffen the spine and narrow the space where nerves travel, leading to pinched nerves.
- • Rheumatoid arthritis: Inflammation caused by arthritis can compress nerves, particularly in the joints.
- • Thyroid disease: Thyroid disease leads to higher risk of carpal tunnel disease, which can cause pinched nerves.
- • Diabetes: People with diabetes have a higher risk of nerve compression.
- • Overuse: Jobs or hobbies that require repeated movements of the hand, wrist or shoulder can increase risk.
- • Obesity: More weight means more pressure on nerves.
- • Pregnancy: Water and weight gain can swell nerve pathways and compress nerves.
- • Prolonged bed rest: Can increase the risk of nerve compression.
After a basic physical examination and possibly a few additional tests to confirm that pain is from a pinched nerve, treatment options for pinched nerves may vary. The most common is rest and avoidance of all activities that may be causing the compression. In some cases, splints or braces might be recommended to immobilize the area. Other treatment options include:
- • Physical therapy: To help you learn exercises to strengthen and stretch muscles in the affected area and relieve pressure on the nerve. You can also learn modifications to actions that aggravate the nerve.
- • Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen sodium can help with pain, and corticosteroids via mouth or injection can help with pain and inflammation.
- • Surgery: For pinched nerves that don’t improve after several weeks or a few months through these treatments, your doctor may recommend surgery to relieve nerve pressure. The exact type of surgery will depend on the location of the pinched nerve.
There are a few steps you can take to help prevent pinched nerves:
- • Maintain good positioning—don’t cross the legs or remain in any single lying down position for a long time
- • Work strength and flexibility exercises into your normal exercise routine
- • Limit repetitive activities, and take regular breaks during these activities
- • Maintain a healthy weight
If you’re concerned about pain symptoms that may be a pinched nerve, speak to your doctor about diagnosis and possible treatment options.
Our orthopedics practice has provided care for over 30 years. Our staff is trained handle a variety of issues, including sports medicine. We care for you and your family with the same state-of-the art techniques we use with BYU and Olympic athletes.
“Pinched nerve.” The Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pinched-nerve/home/ovc-20314332
“Pinched (Compressed) Nerve.” WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/compressed-nerves#2