A pinched nerve happens when direct pressure or compression on a nerve prevents it from properly conducting its signal. When there is increased pressure from bones, cartilage, muscles, or tendons surrounding a nerve, it can disrupt the nerve’s function by pressing on it too much resulting in a pinched nerve. This compression of a nerve leads to pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness.
What Causes a Pinched Nerve?
- One common cause is poor posture; body positions like habitually keeping legs crossed, leaning on elbows, and slumping the spine.
- Disc herniation, bulging discs, arthritis, spinal stenosis, and bone spurs near in the spine can cause pressure on nerve roots.
- Weight gain, water retention, and thyroid disease can increase the risk of certain types of pinched nerves.
- Pregnancy, because it is associated with weight gain and water retention, is a common risk factor.
- Injury and bruising can cause swelling around a nerve.
- Rheumatoid or wrist arthritis and stress from repetitive activities like typing and using certain tools can increase inflammation around specific nerves and may lead to a pinched nerve.
- A pinched nerve in the wrist can be brought about by carpal tunnel syndrome.
Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve
Depending on what nerve is impaired, the symptoms felt will vary. Each nerve is sending information to or from particular parts of the body. Pain, numbness, tingling, a pins-and-needles sensation, and weakness of the muscles along the path of the nerve. A pinched nerve sensation may feel similar to the experience of one of your limbs falling asleep. Pinched nerves cause symptoms at the site of damage or other locations further down the path of the affected nerve.
Pinched nerves in the neck lead to pain and stiffness in the neck and down the arm. Pinched nerves in the lower back causes back pain and stiffness with symptoms down the leg. A pinched nerve in the wrist affects the thumb, index, and middle fingers. It can also cause weakness in grip strength and atrophy of the muscle of the palm next to the thumb. A pinched nerve in the elbow affects the forearm, ring finger, and pinky finger.
Treating a Pinched Nerve
The doctor will ask you about your pain, numbness, and other symptoms, your medical conditions, work history, and family medical history. This information can help in identifying the nerves affected. A physical exam will then be performed, where the doctor will test your strength, sensation, muscle tone, and specific muscles. If a pinched nerve is suspected, X-rays may be necessary to source possible injury to spine or arthritis of the spine. You may also need a CT scan or MRI scan. Other specific tests like a nerve conduction study or electromyography EMG. This test stimulates the nerves with a mild electrical impulse to measure the speed of the impulse traveling in the nerve.
Rest and ice are frequently the treatment for a pinched nerve. Pinched nerves in the arm may need the support of a brace for a short period, to ensure the amount of movement is limited, allowing the nerve to rest and recover. Too much movement runs the risk of further compressing or pinching the affected nerve.
Anti-inflammatory medication can help reduce the inflammation around the affected nerve. Physical therapy can help stretch and strengthen specific muscles. This contributes to relieve the pressure on the pinched nerve.
Surgery may be recommended if the symptoms persist or if the patient develops additional weaknesses int he muscles. Sometimes the particular nerves being pinched cause loss of control of the bowel or bladder. These are signs of more severe nerve damage.
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