A pinched nerve is also known as a compressed nerve. This is a condition that occurs when something in the body, be it a muscle, tendon, bone, or other organ that impinges upon the nerve and prevents it from being able to function as it would normally. Because the nerves throughout the body are responsible for carrying signals from the brain to the rest of the body and vice versa, a pinched or compressed nerve can cause numerous problems for the person suffering from it, including severe pain and discomfort.
There are numerous reasons that a person may suffer from a pinched nerve. The direct cause of a pinched nerve is too much pressure on the nerve. However, the reasons that this pressure occurs can vary. A pregnant woman, for example, may suffer from a pinched nerve because of the shifts in her pelvis and spine as the fetus grows. A herniated disc in the spine can also cause a pinched nerve as can carpal tunnel or cubital tunnel syndrome. If people have bony tumors or misshapen bones, this could also pinch or compress nerves throughout the body.
Pain is often the most noticeable sign of a pinched nerve. This can be pain directly in the area of the nerve pinch like the neck, lower back, or shoulder. The pain can also be of the radiating kind where the pain extends from the location of the pinched nerve, generally down through the lower extremities. A person may feel as if an area of their body is tingling or numb, and may even experience weakness in the muscles in the affected body parts.
A pinched nerve occurs when undue or new pressure from surrounding tissues, like muscles, cartilage and sometimes even bone, is placed on a nerve. This can happen for several reasons — injury, arthritis, obesity, bone spurs, stress from repetitive work, and more.
Things like prolonged bed rest and pregnancy can also put an individual at a higher risk for nerve compression. There are many types of pinched nerves, with carpal tunnel being a very common form, especially as more of the population begin to work on computers behind desks. Women have narrower carpal tunnels, putting them at a higher risk for the condition.
Another common location for pinched nerves is the back and neck, often due to compression from weight on the spine.
There are numerous treatment options for a pinched nerve that vary based on the severity of the condition. For a pinched nerve that causes mild symptoms, resting the area and avoiding any activities that exacerbate it can often help it to heal over time. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can also help with pain and inflammation.
In more severe cases, pinched nerves may require corticosteroid injections, prescription pain medications, splinting and even surgery. Surgery for a pinched nerve is designed to relieve the pressure from the nerve. This can involve moving the nerve to a slightly different position, altering the bone structure, or making other changes to keep the nerve from being pinched in the future.
One of the primary ways to prevent pinched nerves is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. A healthy weight and properly performed exercise can keep muscles, tendons and cartilage in shape to stay where they belong and reduce the risk for injury. Incorporate strength and flexibility exercises into your workouts and be sure to stretch before and after exercising.
Alcohol and tobacco use can increase the natural degeneration process in spinal discs, so avoiding tobacco and the overuse of alcohol can help keep spinal nerve pinches in at bay.
Managing risk factors can help prevent them as well. If you have a job requiring a lot of repetitive movement or you work at a computer for prolonged periods, be sure to do stretches and use preventative devices like squishy wrist rest mats to avoid carpal tunnel.
Maintain good posture and consider talking to a physical therapist about proper yoga or stretching exercises to prevent pinched nerves or ease the pain of existing ones. Be sure to replace your mattress every eight years or so and use supportive pillows to help avoid pinched nerves in your neck and back.