Also known as a compressed nerve, a pinched nerve typically develops if excessive pressure is placed on a nerve by the bones, cartilage, tendons, or muscles surrounding it. The pressure impairs nerve function, leading to pain and numbness in the affected area. Patients typically develop a pinched nerve as a result of an injury or from stress on a nerve due to repetitive motions used in hobbies or work activities. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis may be more likely to have pinched nerves, and some clinicians believe obesity also raises the risk of this issue. Diabetes, thyroid conditions, bone spurs, and bed rest can all increase a patient's risk of a pinched nerve as well. To diagnose a pinched nerve, doctors may recommend patients have nerve conduction studies, ultrasounds, MRI scans, and electromyography studies.
Muscle weakness develops in patients who have experienced a pinched nerve for a prolonged period. This symptom can significantly impact a patient's quality of life and their ability to be active. For example, patients who have a pinched nerve in the wrist may have pain while driving, lifting objects, or opening jars. Patients with a pinched nerve in the back may have pain while walking, and they may reduce their activity as a result of this pain. To help strengthen muscles, clinicians often recommend a course of physical therapy, and patients can wear a brace that may help alleviate some pressure on the nerve. Some patients may find it easier to perform potentially painful activities while wearing a supportive brace. However, patients should be careful to rest the affected area according to their doctor's instructions, as overuse can aggravate symptoms.
Pins And Needles Sensation
A pins and needles sensation typically feels like burning or as though the affected area is 'asleep.' This sensation is particularly common in patients who have carpal tunnel syndrome, a compressed nerve in the wrist. Many patients find the pins and needles sensation worsens at night. To reduce this sensation, patients may need to monitor their posture. For example, if the sensation occurs in the wrist, patients may be able to reduce it by keeping their wrist straight and not placing excess weight on it. Bending the wrist or sleeping with the head on top of the wrist usually exacerbates this issue. Depending on the severity of this sensation, clinicians may recommend patients take pain relievers or apply a pain relieving topical gel to the area. Gentle movement can also help alleviate this sensation, and patients may wish to try some slow exercises that use elastic bands to develop their range of motion. An orthopedist or neurologist can evaluate pins and needles and help the patient decide on the most appropriate treatment option.
Numbness In Affected Area
Patients with a pinched nerve anywhere in the body may develop numbness in the affected area. If the upper limbs are affected, this may reduce the patient's ability to grasp objects, type, or lift objects. If the numbness affects the lower body, patients could have trouble walking, standing, or bearing weight on the affected limb, and this could increase their risk for falls or fractures. Periods of numbness may come and go, and the numbness often lasts for increasingly long periods in patients who have had a pinched nerve for a while. Sometimes, surgery to reduce nerve compression can be used to alleviate numbness. The type of surgery performed will depend on the location of the pinched nerve. Removal of bone spurs or parts of herniated discs may be beneficial for those who have compressed nerves in the spine, and surgery to widen the carpal tunnel can alleviate numbness for patients with this condition.
Sharp or Aching Pain
Pain is one of the most common symptoms associated with a pinched nerve, and patients normally describe the pain as either a sharp or aching pain. The nature and severity of the pain can help the doctor determine the most appropriate treatment method. Normally, doctors recommend patients rest the affected area as much as possible to relieve pain, and this is especially important if the pinched nerve is caused by overuse. Over-the-counter pain relievers, including ibuprofen, may be recommended to reduce pain, and doctors may prescribe extra-strength versions of these if needed. Due to the risk of liver damage, patients should take these medicines in the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible length of time, and they should discuss alternative methods of pain relief with their healthcare team. The use of ice packs or heating pads may also help soothe pain, and these can be applied to the affected area for up to twenty minutes at a time as often as needed. Massage, active scar release, and physical therapy may all be useful in reducing the pain of a pinched nerve.
Stiffness In Affected Area
Many patients with a pinched nerve may experience stiffness in the affected area. Patients who have rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis may be more likely to have stiffness. To reduce or alleviate this symptom, it can be helpful to avoid keeping the affected area in the same position for too long. If the patient uses a supportive brace for the area, they should ask a physician about how long the brace needs to be worn, as wearing it for too long may cause stiffness. In addition, gently rotating the wrist, ankle, fingers, or other impacted areas will keep blood flowing and reduce the amount of stiffness the patient may experience. Slow stretches with elastic bands may be useful too, and physical therapists can instruct patients in the most effective stretches for their particular situation. Many patients find hydrotherapy and swimming help reduce stiffness, and activities performed in water are easier on the joints compared to those performed on land. Moist heat from a heating pad or rice bag may reduce stiffness and ease movement as well.