All You Need to Know about Pinched Nerve

Diagnosis & Prevention

All You Need to Know about Pinched Nerve

Diagnosis & Prevention

A pinched nerve occurs when too much pressure is put on a nerve by the surrounding tissues like the bones, the tendons, the cartilage, or muscles. This pressure disrupts the nerve’s functioning and causes pain, weakness, tingling, or numbness.

A pinched nerve can occur at a number of sites in the body. For example, a herniated disc in the lower spine may put too much pressure on the nerve root, causing pain that radiates down the back of the leg. Similarly, a pinched nerve in the wrist can cause pain and numbness in the hands and fingers (carpal tunnel syndrome).

Nerves extend from the brain and the spinal cord, sending important messages throughout the body. When an individual has a pinched nerve, also known as nerve compression, the body may send warning signals like pain. It is important to not ignore these warning signals.

The damage from a pinched nerve may be severe or minor. It may cause long-lasting or temporary problems. The earlier a diagnosis is made and treatment for nerve compression is started, the more quickly one will find relief.

In some cases, the damage from a pinched nerve may not be reversed. But treatment options usually relieve pain and other symptoms associated with a pinched nerve.

Signs and symptoms
With a pinched nerve, sometimes pain may be the only symptoms. Or there may be other symptoms without any pain. Some of the common signs and symptoms associated with a pinched nerve are:

  • Pain in the area of compressions, such as the lower back or the neck
  • Weakness, especially during certain activities
  • Radiating pain, such as radicular pain or sciatica
  • A burning or a “pins and needles” sensation
  • Tingling or numbness

Sometimes, the symptoms may worsen when one tries certain movements, such straining the neck or turning the head.

As mentioned earlier, a pinched nerve occurs when too much pressure, compression, is applied to a nerve by the surrounding tissues.

In some cases, this tissue may be a cartilage or a bone. For example, in the case of a herniated spinal disc that compresses a nerve root. In other cases, tendons or muscles may cause the condition.

In the case of carpal tunnel syndrome, a variety of different tissues may be responsible for the compression of the carpal tunnel’s median nerve, including enlarging the bone that narrows the tunnel; swollen tendon sheaths within the tunnel; or a thickened and degenerated ligament.

Several conditions may cause the tissue to compress a nerve or nerves, including

  • Injury
  • Obesity
  • Rheumatoid or wrist arthritis
  • Sport activities or hobbies
  • Stress from repetitive work

Risk factors
The following factors may increase the risk of an individual from suffering from a pinched nerve:

  • Sex– Women more than men are likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Thyroid disease– People suffering from thyroid disease are more likely to suffer from a pinched nerve.
  • Bone spurs– Trauma or a health condition that causes the thickening of the bone, such as osteoarthritis, can lead to bone spurs. Bone spurs can stiffen the spine and narrow the space from where the nerves travel, pinching nerves.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis– The inflammation that is caused by rheumatoid arthritis can compress the nerves, especially in the joints.

The amount of time it takes for the symptoms of pinched nerve to go away vary from one person to another. Depending on the severity and cause of the pinched nerve, the treatment varies.

One may find that simply resting the injured area and by avoiding the activities that tend to worsen the symptoms can be beneficial. In many cases, that’s all that is needed to be done.

If the symptoms persist, it is important to visit the doctor. One may need one or more types of treatments to shrink the swollen tissue around the nerve.

In some severe cases, it may be necessary to remove the material that is compressing the nerve, like:

  • Scar tissue
  • Disc material
  • Pieces of bone

Treatment options may include:

  • NSAIDs– Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen, aspirin, or ibuprofen may reduce swelling.
  • Surgery– Surgery may be needed for more severe problems that don’t seem to respond to other types of treatment.
  • Oral corticosteroids– These medicines are used to reduce the pain and the swelling.
  • Splint– A soft collar or a splint limits the motion and allows muscles to rest.
  • Narcotics– Narcotics may be used for a short period of time for reducing severe pain.
  • Physical therapy– Physical therapy helps in stretching and strengthening the muscles.
  • Steroid injections– Steroid injections may help in reducing the swelling and allowing the inflamed nerves to recover.

For preventing pinched nerves from occurring as well as re-occurring, it is important to follow certain measures. These measures include:

  • Maintaining good positioning by avoiding crossing legs or lying in one position for prolonged periods of time
  • Maintaining a healthy weight to avoid excess strain on the nerves and muscles
  • Incorporating strength and flexibility exercises in the regular exercising program
  • Limiting repetitive activities and taking frequent breaks when engaging in such activities.