If you’re experiencing a pinched nerve for the first time, it can be difficult to truly discern the cause without the confirmation of a doctor. Pain or discomfort from a pinched nerve, which is essentially a nerve that becomes damaged or compressed, often subsides within a couple days, but can sometimes last for much longer. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may require medical attention in order to find relief.
Pinched nerves are most common amongst those who are middle or old aged, when spinal discs are more vulnerable to slippage (i.e. a herniated disc). This can occur when someone lifts something too heavy or bends or twists too quickly or far. When experiencing a pinched nerve, it’s common to feel pain or tingling that radiates from the neck and into the shoulder, arm, or hand.
In this article, we’ll provide all the basics of pinched nerves, including causes, symptoms, and treatments.
Causes of a Pinched Nerve
Pinched nerves are caused by an excess of pressure (compression) from surrounding tissues, be that bone or cartilage. That excess pressure, however, can occur for a variety of reasons. Here are the most common:
Age, obesity, diabetes, and physically stressful/repetitive movements are risk factors that may increase the possibility of pinching a nerve.
Pinched Nerve Symptoms
Pinched nerve symptoms range in severity, causing only mild, temporary discomfort for some while feeling debilitating to others. The most common symptoms of a pinched nerve include:
- Numbness or tingling in the area surrounding the pinched nerve, and even possibly radiation throughout the arms, hands, and/or fingers
- Pain that can feel sharp, achy, or burning
- Muscle weakness
These symptoms may feel worse when sleeping or when trying to make certain movements, like turning your head.
Treatments for a Pinched Nerve
Pinched nerve recovery varies depending on the severity and root cause. For less severe cases, rest and avoiding certain, aggravating activities might be all that’s needed. If symptoms persist, however, or if they become worse, it may be a sign that the cause is more severe and a visit to your doctor may be necessary. Such cases may require surgery to remove whatever is causing the compression, such as scar tissue, pieces of bone, or disc material.
If you’ve experienced a pinched nerve before, or if you’re at risk for getting one, there are preventative measures you can take to decrease the likelihood of a pinched nerve. These preventative steps include:
- Maintaining good posture
- Practicing neck-friendly exercises and stretches
- Getting regular massages
- Limiting activities that involve painful/awkward movements
- Staying at a healthy weight
When to Seek Medical Attention
Given the complexity of the anatomy of the neck, as well as all the possible causes of injury or strain, it can be difficult to discern the root of chronic and/or severe neck pain without consulting a doctor. Did you simply turn your head too fast and cause a slight strain? Or was it more severe?
Though pinched nerves can be mild and go away on their own, if the pain or tingling caused by a pinched nerve becomes chronic, it’s important to see your doctor or consult with a surgeon to determine the best treatment plan for you.