As a child growing up, you, like most of us, were probably victimized on occasion by a sibling who pinched you for effect: the resulting screeches tend to be dramatic. A pinched nerve may not cause you to howl with the same pain and indignation, but it is unpleasant and requires tending. Unfortunately, calling for your mother to punish the offender isn’t an acceptable solution in this case!

What Is a Pinched Nerve?

Nerves are the highways and roads extending throughout our body to carry signals to and from the brain. When the surrounding tissues – cartilage, bones, muscles or tendons – place too much pressure on a nerve and pain and/or other symptoms result, it is called a pinched nerve.

You can experience pinched nerves at a variety of places throughout the body. For example, you may have a pinched nerve in your wrist, causing carpal tunnel syndrome, or a herniated disc that results in a pinched nerve somewhere in your spine. Many people experience a pinched nerve in their neck, shoulder, lower back, arm and feet.

What Causes a Pinched Nerve?

Some of us are more prone to pinched nerves than others. Your susceptibility is increased if you exhibit any of the following characteristics:

  • Female sex. Women are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Bone spurs. If trauma or injury causes a bone spur, it can narrow the passage for nerves to travel, leading to a pinched nerve.
  • Thyroid disease. If you have thyroid problems, you are more prone to carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis often causes inflammation, which puts pressure on your joints.
  • Diabetes. People with diabetes have a higher risk of pinched nerves.
  • Overuse. If you participate in sports or hobbies that require repetitive motion, you stand at risk of a pinched nerve.
  • Prolonged bed rest. Lying down for long periods can lead to compression of your nerves.
  • Pregnancy. Pregnant women are susceptible to pinched nerves due to the pressure put on nerves by weight gain and water retention.
  • Obesity. Carrying excess weight can place pressure on your nerves.

Pinched Nerve Symptoms

If you have a pinched nerve somewhere in your body, you may experience one or more of these sensations:

  • Numbness or decreased sensation in the area supplied by the nerve.
  • Frequent feeling that a foot or hand has “fallen asleep”.
  • Muscle weakness in the affected area.
  • Sharp, aching or burning pain, which may radiate outward.
  • Tingling, pins and needles sensations (paresthesia).
  • Burning or hot and cold sensations.
pinched nerve symptoms

How Is a Pinched Nerve Diagnosed?

The connection between a pinched nerve and its symptoms may not be obvious, because the pain may not appear at the source; it may be felt further down the path from the affected nerve. Your spine, however, is a very intricate structure, so any changes to the surrounding muscles or tendons may have an impact.

If your physician suspects a pinched nerve, you may be asked to undergo one or more tests to determine whether your nerve is pinched and/or damaged:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A magnetic field and radio waves produce images of your body on multiple planes.
  • Electromyography (EMG). EMG evaluates the electrical activity of your muscles when they’re active and when they are at rest.
  • High-resolution ultrasound. Sound waves produce images of your body’s structures, allowing assessment of damage.
  • Nerve conduction study. Electrodes measure electrical nerve impulses and muscle function.

How Do You Relieve a Pinched Nerve?

No matter whether the pain you are experiencing is minor or strong, it’s important to address it quickly so that you don’t sustain permanent nerve damage. Your physician will discuss options of how to treat a pinched nerve with you based on your condition.

In most cases your physician will turn first to non-invasive treatment options:

  • Rest. The first remedy your physician may suggest is rest of the affected area to allow healing. This may include wearing a splint to keep it immobile, depending on the location of the nerve.
  • Hot and Cold Therapy. Treating the affected area with heating pads and ice packs, used alternately according to instructions, may relieve mild pain.
  • Posture. Aligning the spine properly to distribute your body weight across it evenly can relieve pressure.
  • Physiotherapy. Physiotherapists can perform spinal traction (decompression), and teach you proper stretching and strengthening exercises to support the spine. They can help you increase the endurance and flexibility of the surrounding muscles, especially in the target area, to relieve pressure on the nerve and ease pain. They can also suggest ways to modify movements that aggravate the affected nerve.
  • Massage. A registered massage therapist can use deep therapeutic massage to increase blood flow and promote healing, while relieving pain.

After a few weeks or months, if these non-invasive treatments aren’t bearing fruit, your physician may suggest surgery to relieve the pressure on the nerve. The good news is that, in most cases, you can treat the injury yourself with help from the aforementioned professionals.

Get Relief for Your Pinched Nerve!