A pinched nerve is one of the more common reasons people experience back pain. Because your back is such a complex structure, it doesn’t take much for it to get out of whack. When there’s too much pressure on the nerve – be it from bones, cartilage, muscles or tendons – it can get compressed and cause pain. Although your back is one of the more common places for a pinched nerve to occur, compressed nerves aren’t isolated in your back. You can also suffer pinched nerves in your neck, legs and arms.
Symptoms of Pinched Nerve Pain
Common symptoms of a pinched nerve include:
- Numbness or decreased sensation in the affected area.
- Sharp, tingling or burning pain in the area.
- A tingling or a “pins and needles sensation” in the area.
- Muscle weakness.
- Shooting pain or sensation in the back, neck, arm or leg.
- Worsening pain while sleeping.
Movement can exacerbate or alleviate symptoms, but exercise and activity is almost always recommended. Movement will usually help loosen the tissues that are pressing on the affected nerve. As we’ve mentioned before, exercise and physical activity is great for combating pain-related conditions.
Treating Pinched Nerves
Unless pain is severely debilitating, most people try to let the condition heal on its own. As you might have guessed based on the above paragraph, physical therapy is one way people try to correct their pinched nerve. A PT can teach you specific exercises to strengthen and stretch muscles to relieve pressure on the nerve.
In additional to physical therapy/activity, a common treatment option for those suffering from a pinched nerve is anti-inflammatory medications. If inflammation is the root cause of the pressure, NSAIDs can be the perfect remedy. More often than not, though, anti-inflammatory medications need to be paired with other treatment options to fully fix the issue.
One final non-surgical treatment option for pinched nerves is a corticosteroid injection. The injection can minimize pain and discomfort as well as reduce inflammation in the area. If you have a fear of needles, the steroid can be taken orally as well.
Pinched Nerve Surgery
If your pinched nerve doesn’t improve after several weeks of conservative treatment, surgery may be your best bet. Surgery will free the nerve from its compressed state, and your doctor can remove scar tissue or problematic bones spurs that might be causing the condition.
As you might have guessed, the type of operation depends on where the nerve is located and what’s causing the compression. For example, a pinched nerve in the arm could be relieved by removing bone spurs, a compressed nerve in the back could be alleviated by removing a herniated disc, while a nerve issue in the wrist could be treated by cutting ligaments to give nerves more room to “breathe.”
If you have pain in your back, or you are experiencing similar symptoms in another part of your body, swing into a physical medicine specialist right away!
Thomas Cohn, MD
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