Pinched (Compressed) Nerve
Nerves extend from your brain and spinal cord, sending important messages
throughout your body. If you have a pinched nerve (nerve compression) your body may
send you warning signals such as pain. Don't ignore these warning signals.
Damage from a pinched nerve may be minor or severe. It may cause temporary or
long-lasting problems. The earlier you get a diagnosis and treatment for nerve
compression, the more quickly you'll find relief.
In some cases, you can't reverse the damage from a pinched nerve. But treatment
usually relieves pain and other symptoms.
Causes of Pinched Nerves
A pinched nerve occurs when there is "compression" (pressure) on a nerve.
The pressure may be the result of repetitive motions. Or it may happen from holding
your body in one position for long periods, such as keeping elbows bent while sleeping.
Nerves are most vulnerable at places in your body where they travel through narrow
spaces but have little soft tissue to protect them. Nerve compression often occurs
when the nerve is pressed between tissues such as:
For example, inflammation or pressure on a nerve root exiting the spine may cause
neck or low back pain. It may also cause pain to radiate from the neck into the shoulder
and arm (cervical radiculopathy). Or pain may radiate into the leg and foot (lumbar
radiculopathy or sciatic nerve pain).
These symptoms may result from changes that develop in the spine's discs and bones.
For example, if a disc weakens or tears -- known as a herniated disc -- pressure can
get put on a spinal nerve.
Nerve compression in your neck or arm may also cause symptoms in areas such as
This can lead to conditions such as:
Carpal tunnel syndrome
If nerve compression lasts a long time, a protective barrier around the nerve may break
down. Fluid may build up, which may cause:
The scarring may interfere with the nerve's function.
Symptoms of Pinched Nerves
With nerve compression, sometimes pain may be your only symptom. Or you may
have other symptoms without pain.
These are some of the more common symptoms of compressed nerves:
Pain in the area of compressions, such as the neck or low back
Radiating pain, such as sciatica or radicular pain
Numbness or tingling
"Pins and needles" or a burning sensation
Weakness, especially with certain activities
Sometimes symptoms worsen when you try certain movements, such as
head or straining your neck.
Treatmentfor Pinched Nerves
How long it takes for symptoms to end can vary from person to person. Treatment
varies, depending on the severity and cause of the nerve compression.
You may find that you benefit greatly from simply resting the injured area and by
avoiding any activities that tend to worsen your symptoms. In many cases, that's all
you need to do.
If symptoms persist or pain is severe, see your doctor. You may need one or more
types of treatment to shrink swollen tissue around the nerve.
In more severe cases, it may be necessary to remove material that's pressing on a
nerve, such as:
Pieces of bone
Treatment may include:
NSAIDs. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or
naproxen may reduce swelling.
Oral corticosteroids. These are used to reduce swelling and pain.
Narcotics. These are used for brief periods to reduce severe pain.
Steroid injections. These injections may reduce swelling and allow inflamed nerves to
Physical therapy. This will help stretch and strengthen muscles.
Splint. A splint or soft collar limits motion and allows muscles to rest for brief periods.
Surgery. Surgery may be needed for more severe problems that don't respond to
other types of treatment.
Work with your doctor to find the best approach for treating your symptoms.
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