Pinched nerve pain is more common than many people realize. The pins and needles you feel from sitting on your foot or sleeping on your arm are examples of the most minor and temporary cases of a pinched nerve. But anyone dealing with chronic pinched nerve pain from a spine condition or injury knows just how serious and debilitating the symptoms can be.
Whether you have been recently diagnosed with a pinched nerve or you are researching potential causes of your pain, this overview can help. By learning more about pinched nerve pain, including the underlying causes, common symptoms and most effective treatments, you can take control of your care and find the relief and quality of life you deserve.
What Is a Pinched Nerve?
The term pinched nerve describes nearly any type of nerve compression. This includes temporary pressure due to an awkward seating position or minor injury to chronic interference from damage to surrounding tissue or a degenerative condition. Depending on the location, severity and cause, pressure on the nerves can result in symptoms including minor discomfort to severe pain and immobility.
The nerves play an important role sending sensory and motor information throughout the body. A big part of this role is alerting us to pain due to an injury or condition so we can take action. A pinched nerve can be particularly difficult because it can disrupt normal nerve function and even lead to long-term damage. This is why prompt diagnosis and treatment is so important.
Common Causes of Pinched Nerve Pain
There are many injuries and conditions that can cause pinched nerve pain, and it can happen to nearly anywhere in the body. This includes nerves in the extremities such as the hands and feet to the spinal cord and surrounding nerve roots. Some of the most frequent sources of pinched nerve pain include:
- Herniated discs and bulging discs, which can compress the spinal cord or a nerve root, resulting in neck pain, back pain or radiating pain into the upper or lower body such as sciatica
- Swollen or arthritic facet joints, which can narrow the nerve pathways in the spine
- Spinal bone spurs, caused by increased friction between arthritic facet joints or vertebral compression due to thinning spinal discs
- Carpal tunnel syndrome, when swollen wrist tissue puts pressure on the median nerve
- Injuries such as fractures, muscle strains or sprains to tendons or ligaments that can occur throughout the body, particularly joints such as the the hips, knees and elbows
Lifestyle factors, including activity level, being overweight or obese and working a physical job can also increase the chances of developing pinched nerve pain.
Symptoms of Pinched Nerve Pain
Many of the conditions that cause nerve compression may not be painful initially. Pinched nerve pain very often develops gradually as age-related conditions continue to worsen. In the earliest stages, it may be easy to dismiss pinched nerve pain as a minor ache or an irritating twinge. Symptoms of pinched nerve pain can include:
- Sharp pain that is often described as burning or electrical
- Pain that radiates outward from the source into other areas
- Tingling sensations described as pins and needles
- Numbness in the local area or surrounding areas
- Muscle weakness and decreased range of motion
Long-term compression can lead to permanent nerve damage and worsening symptoms, so prompt diagnosis and treatment of pinched nerve pain is important.
Diagnosing and Treating a Pinched Nerve
To ensure effective treatment, it is essential for doctors to positively identify the source of the pinched nerve. Pinched nerve pain can cause symptoms that are sometimes misidentified as other conditions or injuries, so a thorough evaluation is key. Doctors should ask detailed questions about symptoms, perform a physical examination, review medical history and order tests such as nerve blocks, diagnostic imagery or nerve conductivity tests to find the source of pinched nerve pain.
Upon diagnosis, treatments can include:
- Resting the area
- Using a device such as a splint or brace to immobilize the region and reduce pressure on the nerve
- Using hot and cold compression therapy to relieve inflammation and improve circulation
- Taking over-the-counter medication to relieve pain
- Undergoing physical therapy to strengthen supporting muscles, improve posture and improve mechanics
- Injections, such as nerve blocks or steroid injections that reduce pain and inflammation and relieve pressure on the nerve
Surgery is another effective method for relieving pinched nerve pain that is generally attempted after thoroughly exploring conservative treatments. The goal is to remove damaged or displaced tissue, such as herniated disc material or bone spur material, that is causing nerve compression. Today, there are a range of minimally invasive, outpatient procedures that can relieve pinched nerve pain with less disruption of surrounding tissue, contributing to a shorter recovery time and less risk of complications.
Contact PPOA to Learn More About Effective Pinched Nerve Pain Relief
Pinched nerve pain can and should be something that anyone can manage. Physician Partners of America (PPOA) is here to assist anyone on the road to relief and wellness, whether you need diagnosis, conservative therapy or advanced treatments including minimally invasive surgery. Our compassionate experts can help you create a personalized treatment plan and find the care you need.
Contact us today to learn more and schedule your appointment.