What is a Pinched Nerve?
A pinched nerve (also known as a compressed nerve) is a nerve that has been compressed in such a way that it continues to send signals to a patient’s brain and spinal cord. Because the pinched nerve is under constant pressure, the signals that are sent are those of “pain.” This is why a pinched nerve can be so painful and why most people seek to have it treated as quickly as possible. Damage from a pinched nerve is usually minor and may resolve itself over time, but some cases are more severe and long-lasting and may even require surgery.
What Causes Pinched Nerves?
True to its name, a pinched nerve occurs when there is some kind of pressure on a nerve. This can be caused by repetitive motions or by keeping one’s body in one position for a prolonged period of time. This is why many pinched nerves occur when people are asleep. It’s very common for a person to fall asleep in a certain position and wake up in pain. A nerve is at its most vulnerable in places where it moves through narrow parts of the body with little soft tissue to protect it. This typically occurs when it is pressed between ligaments, tendons or bones. Nerve roots exiting the spine may cause pain in the lower back or in the neck, and a pinched nerve in the neck may be felt in one of the shoulders. A pinched nerve in the leg may cause pain in a patient’s foot (a condition known as sciatic nerve pain). Other parts of the body that are commonly affected by pinched nerves include the elbows, hands, wrists and fingers. If left unchecked, severe pinched nerves may lead to conditions such as peripheral neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome and tennis elbow. Fluid can also build up around a pinched nerve if the protective barrier around the nerve begins to break down. This can cause swelling and scarring along with extra pressure on the nerve.
Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve
In many cases, pain may be the only symptom of a pinched nerve. However, other symptoms do occur. Some of these include:
- Weakness (especially after high-intensity activities)
How Can a Pinched Nerve Be Treated?
The treatment options for a pinched nerve can vary depending on the location and severity of the pinched nerve. Some patients find that the pinched nerve resolves itself if they simply relax and avoid movements and activities that cause pain. More severe and longer-lasting cases may require treatments that shrink swollen tissue around the nerve. If a pinched nerve is caused by something pressing against it, such as scar tissue or a bone fragment, the offending material should be removed through surgery. Other treatments for pinched nerves include taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen to relieve pain and swelling, steroid injections, narcotics, physical therapy and splints or other devices that limit motion. Pinched or compressed nerves vary in severity, with some responding to rest and others requiring treatment. In any case, they are very painful and debilitating. If you believe you have a pinched nerve, don’t be afraid to take it easy and get some rest. If the pain persists, see your doctor as quickly as possible.
This article was written by Patrick Hamilton, a freelance writer, medical student, and dog-lover. For more information on pinched nerves and their treatment, Patrick suggests visiting a professional.