Any aching pain, sensation, weakness, or numbness that is caused by raised pressure on an area of a nerve can lead to a pinched nerve. This condition is most commonly associated with a neck injury or back pain, and other body positionings including poor posture, leaning on elbows, or regularly crossing legs; however, almost any nerve in the body is susceptible.
If nerves are compressed for a short time, they can typically repair themselves. However, it may take a few weeks up to several months for the symptoms to go away. Also, permanent nerve injuries may occur if the compressions remain for a long time.
Symptoms of a pinched nerve vary; the warning signals sent to the brain cause different symptoms, primarily depending on what nerve is affected. In general, the symptoms of this condition are:
- Muscle weakness
- Pins and needles or stinging pain
Those signs may also worsen after just waking up or from lying down for a while. Also, a pinched nerve poses other risk factors.
Arthritis and disc herniation in the spine can cause increased pressure on nerves which results in pain linked to a pinched nerve.
Water retention leading to weight gain can contribute to developing this nerve condition. Thyroid disease, in particular, causes water retention which then leads to weight gain and can consequently increase the risk of pinched nerves. Also, pregnancy is associated with weight gain and occasional water retention.
Repetitive physical activities including using specific equipment and typing can increase the swelling around nerves.
Common Affected Areas
- Carpal tunnel
- Ulnar nerve at the elbow, which is caused by frequently leaning on elbows while driving or sitting
- Peroneal nerve injury, which is associated with crossing the legs
- Lateral femoral cutaneous nerve, which is commonly seen in pregnancy and is also usually caused by putting pressure on the nerve leading to the upper thigh
- Sciatic nerve
- Cervical spine
The diagnosis starts with performing a thorough physical examination and taking a detailed history of the patient’s symptoms. Depending on the results, the diagnosis may be confirmed right away or may require further testing. Electromyography is a study of nerve conduction to help affirm the diagnosis of pinched nerves and determine the scope of the nerve damage. If the pinched nerve is around the cervical spine (neck) or lumbar spine (back), then a CT scan or MRI may be performed to confirm the diagnosis and determine the cause.
The treatment plan for this type of nerve condition will depend on two factors: the location of it in the body and the cause. Typically, taking a rest and not moving the affected area is useful, mainly if repetitive physical activities cause it.
If the problem area is in the lower back or neck, then physical therapy is often the recommended solution. Doing exercises may strengthen the muscles and lessen the pressure on nerves. Additionally, over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and prescribed corticosteroids may be taken.
For carpal tunnel syndrome, bracing the wrist is often done. For ulnar neuropathy or common peroneal neuropathy cases, adjusting body positions may be required. Additionally, weight loss can be beneficial for many types of this nerve condition. Surgery may also be necessary but only in cases where medication, physical therapy, and injections didn’t work.
All of these treatment plans have one goal: relieve the pressure on the problem areas of the nerve.
Extra rest and sleep
Getting adequate sleep and rest is essential for a healing nerve. When we sleep, our body repairs itself, so getting more sleep and rest gives our body a chance to heal longer. Most of the time, resting the problem areas and getting more sleep are enough to relieve the pain and swelling of a pinched nerve. Furthermore, nerve conditions may worsen with excessive use of the nerve, so find a sleeping position that is comfortable on the nerve. If you have a pinched nerve, try not to overwork the nerve.
Poor posture can either cause or aggravate a pinched nerve. Standing or sitting with incorrect, wrong posture for extended periods can cause stress and tension on the body. This scenario may further damage the muscles. Using neck and wrist rests, adjustable chairs, and cushions when sitting may relieve pressure on the nerve.
Since a lot of us spend the majority of our day at work, the environment and activities in the workplace may contribute to a pinched nerve occurrence. Making use of ergonomic keyboard and mouse can help alleviate the pressure in the wrists and hands. Elevating the computer monitor helps raise the eye level that may prevent neck pain. A standing workstation features different positional options that could help remove pressure on the back. Try out these positions to find the right one for your pinched nerve situation.