Nerves extend from the brain and spinal cord, sending important messages throughout the body. Patients who have a pinched nerve (nerve compression) often find themselves in pain, which is their body sending them warning signals. Don't ignore these warning signals.
Damage from a pinched nerve may be minor or severe and it may cause temporary or long-lasting problems. Patients should come in to see the team here at American Spine and Pain Med Group as soon as possible. The earlier a diagnosis is made and treatment for nerve compression is started, the more quickly relief will be felt.
In some cases, damage from a pinched nerve cannot be reversed. But treatment usually relieves pain and other symptoms.
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 the body in one position for long periods, such as keeping elbows bent while sleeping.
Nerves are the most vulnerable at places in the 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 ligament, tendon, and bone.
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 (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 gets put on a spinal nerve.
Nerve compression in the neck or arm may also cause symptoms in areas such as the elbow, hand, wrist, and fingers. This can lead to peripheral neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, and tennis elbow.
If nerve compression lasts a long time, a protective barrier around the nerve can break down. Fluid may build up, which may cause swelling, extra pressure, and scarring. The scarring may interfere with the nerve's function.
With nerve compression, sometimes pain may be the only symptom. Or other symptoms may occur without pain.
Some of the more common symptoms of compressed nerves are as follows:
Pain in the area of compression, 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 can worsen when turning the head or straining the neck.
How long it takes for symptoms to end can vary from person to person. Treatment often 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, come see us here at American Spine and Pain Med Group. 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 scar tissue, disc material, and pieces of bone.
Treatment for pinched nerve may include:
NSAIDs. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen 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 recover.
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.
At American Spine, we are dedicated to treating chronic pain and spine conditions. Offering the latest in minimally invasive spine surgery and other effective treatment options, American Spine is the leading pain physician group of California. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call us at (951)-734-PAIN (7246)
The advice and information contained in this article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended to replace or counter a physician’s advice or judgment. Please always consult your physician before taking any advice learned here or in any other educational medical material.