A pinched nerve – also known as a compressed nerve – occurs when too much pressure is placed on a nerve by surrounding bones, cartilage, muscles, or tendons.
The pinched nerve compression disrupts the nervous system, causing pain, numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness. Sufferers of pinched nerve frequently report radiating pain with a sharp, aching, or burning sensation. The condition can also cause a prickly or “pins and needles” sensation.
The most common causes of pinched nerve are injury, arthritis, or stress from repetitive movements that put pressure on the neck.
People who work in jobs that require repetitive motions – for example, assembly line workers – are at greater risk of suffering from pinched nerve. The condition can also be caused by a damaged vertebra or herniated spinal disc that compresses a nerve in the upper part of your spine.
Pinched Nerve Diagnosis
A pinched nerve is usually diagnosed using an imaging test, such as an EMG, MRI, or high-resolution ultrasound, to look for nerve compression.
Your doctor may also perform a nerve conduction test. Using electrodes placed on your skin, your doctor can measure the electrical impulses in your nerve signals to detect abnormalities.
Treatment Options for Pinched Nerve
Treatment for pinched nerve depends on the severity of your symptoms. Here is a summary of the most common treatments:
Supportive Neck Brace
A neck brace or stabilizing cervical collar will immobilize the neck and reduce inflammation around the damaged nerve. Your doctor will ask you to rest and avoid any activities that put pressure or stress on the neck.
Along with exercise, medications can help reduce pain and inflammation around pinched nerves. Many over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen, are effective for this purpose. However, your doctor may prescribe stronger medication as needed to treat pain and muscle spasms. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe painkillers or a muscle-relaxing medication.
Physical therapy is a beneficial treatment for pain from pinched nerves. Your physical therapist will show you gentle exercises that will help you relax and relieve pressure on your neck. Physical therapy can also correct muscle imbalances in the neck and shoulders.
Heat or Cold Pack Application
If you are experiencing pain, apply heat or ice to your back or neck. Heat will relax the muscles. Cold will help to reduce inflammation and will ease symptoms of your pinched nerve. Wrap a towel around a heat or ice pack and hold it directly on your neck for 15 – 25 minutes.
Additionally, some people get relief from pain through alternative healing therapies, such as acupuncture and chiropractic treatments. Many patients can alleviate symptoms from pinched nerves with conservative treatments as an alternative to surgery.
Epidural Steroid Injections
Administration of epidural steroid injections can help to reduce inflammation around pinched spinal nerves. The procedure usually takes less than 30 minutes.
During the procedure, corticosteroid medication is injected into the space around the spinal cord.
The procedure can significantly reduce inflammation and provide immediate pain relief. The pain relief lasts for a short time (usually 2-3 weeks). Because steroid injections can damage soft tissues, they are typically not given more than 3-4 times in a year.
Most pain from a pinched nerve usually subsides after rest and gentle physical therapy. However, if your pinched nerve symptoms do not improve with conservative treatments, your doctor may recommend surgery. The procedure depends on the location of the pinched nerve.
The most common surgery to treat lumbar spinal stenosis is a laminectomy.
The procedure is minimally invasive. It is performed through a small incision and guided by video from a miniature camera. The bony plate on the back of the vertebra (the lamina) is removed, which creates more space for the spinal nerves.
Ways to Prevent Pinched Nerve
If you are at risk of developing a pinched nerve, it is important to focus on prevention. Try to limit any repetitive movements that put pressure on your neck. Avoid slouching over laptops or mobile devices, which puts unnecessary stress on your neck. Take frequent breaks when engaging in these activities. Watch your posture.
Low-impact, strength-building exercises can help correct muscle imbalances that put pressure on the neck and shoulders. Always warm up before exercising to soothe irritated nerves and increase flexibility. Ask your doctor before beginning a new diet or exercise regimen.