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5 Common Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve

Pinched nerves can cause a lot of pain and discomfort if they are not addressed timely. Visit Redefine Healthcare to get expert help to ease the pressure off the nerve and find the best solution to prevent pain from recurring again. Whether it is resulting from some underlying medical condition or an injury, a pinched nerve can be handled effectively with the right treatment. Dr. Eric Freeman specializes in pain management, physical medicine, and rehabilitation and drastically reduces your pain by focusing on your symptoms and addressing their source. Knowing the possible reasons behind your pain can prevent it from worsening and help you seek the best treatment options for long-term relief.

A pinched nerve occurs when soft tissues in the body apply too much pressure to a nerve that, in turn, restricts its ability to function properly. Sometimes, inflammation of soft tissues like muscles and tendons can also compress nearby nerves and result in pinched nerves. Bones and cartilage can also press against a nerve leading to irritation, inflammation, and pain as a result.

The lower back and neck are the most common places where pinched nerves take place as nerve roots travel out of the spinal canal and send sensations to other areas of the body. Your aching back, stiff neck, or arm and leg pain might be occurring from a nerve that is compressed somewhere along the way.

Pinched Nerve

What Causes a Pinched Nerve?

Knowing the causes of a pinched nerve in the neck or back can help you better understand the resulting symptoms.

Common causes include:

  • A bulging or herniated disc
  • Inflammation and degenerative changes from arthritis
  • Bone spurs
  • Back injury
  • Chronic stress from repetitive movements
  • Obesity
  • Aging
  • Being overweight
  • Playing high-impact sports
  • A job that is physically demanding
  • Repetitive work

All these factors can cause soft tissues to compress a nerve or the spinal cord and increase your risk of developing a pinched nerve.

Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve

Here are the 5 most common symptoms you may experience if you have got a pinched nerve.

Radiating pain

Sharp, aching, or burning pain that radiates outwards is a common symptom of a pinched nerve. When a nerve is compressed, its signals are disturbed. The pain usually radiates along some or all of the pathways where the nerve supplies movement or sensation.

In the cervical spine, a pinched nerve may cause neck pain that radiates down the shoulder, arm, hands, and fingers, while in the lumbar spine, a pinched nerve may cause back pain radiating down the hip, buttock, leg, and foot. It feels as if the pain is shooting or burning toward the extremities. When the large sciatic nerve in the lumbar spine is compressed, it results in a set of symptoms, including one-sided pain that travels from the lower back to the buttocks, back of the thigh, calf, and foot.

If you have a compressed nerve in the lower back, the pain may worsen during prolonged sitting or standing periods and positions that exert more pressure on the spine and nerve. You may also experience sudden, shooting pain during forced movements such as sneezing, coughing, or laughing. A neck-compressed nerve can worsen the pain and cause stiffness when you move or turn your head.

Numbness or loss of sensation

When a nerve is pinched, it shuts down communication between the nerves in the legs, arms, or other areas of the body, due to which the brain cannot feel those areas. This numbness occurs when the nerve is unable to send proper signals to the other parts of the body. As a result, you will feel temporary numbness or loss of sensation in that area.

If you have a pinched nerve in the neck, numbness can affect the shoulder, arm, hand, or fingers. Cases of a pinched nerve in the back can cause numbness in the buttocks, leg, or foot. It is just like when you sleep with your arm or leg in an unusual position and wake up to numbness or lack of sensation.

Tingling or pins and needles feeling

Tingling is another common symptom of a pinched or irritated nerve. This tingling is similar to the pins and needles feeling, also known as paresthesia which can feel like a burning or prickling down the pathway of a nerve. It means that the signals between the nerve and the brain are not completely blocked, but there are interfered with just enough to be causing these annoying symptoms.

If you have a compressed nerve in the neck, you may experience tingling sensations down the shoulder, arm, hand, and fingers. If there is a compressed nerve in the lower back, you may experience tingling sensations down the buttocks, leg, and foot. Paresthesia is a common early sign of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Muscle weakness

Nerves play a significant role by providing brain with a lot of sensory information about your movement or the things you are touching, telling the muscles how to react. A pinched nerve can cause muscle weakness and loss of motor function in the affected areas, disrupting your ability to function effectively. When a nerve is irritated or pinched, it is unable to transmit all that data to the brain, which means your muscles will not be able to perform as they should.

You may experience muscle weakness in the area near the pinched nerve. Depending on the location of the compressed nerve, you may experience difficulty walking normally, grasping and holding objects in your hand, difficulty in writing, and performing other small motor tasks.

Hand or foot falling asleep frequently

Experiencing a falling asleep sensation once in a while from sitting or lying on a hand or foot in some position for too long is normal, as an unnatural body position puts pressure on a nerve in the limb leading to temporary compression. This condition is relieved when you move or walk around as blood circulation resumes and the nerve gets back to usual.

If your hand or foot falls asleep frequently for no obvious reason and you feel a sensation of burning, tingling, or skin crawling, it may be a sign of a pinched nerve in the neck or back. Having your hand and foot asleep repeatedly means that the sustained pressure on one or more nerves in the body is compressing it, interfering with the nerve’s ability to communicate with the brain.

Do not take these symptoms lightly, as they may be a sign of something more than overworked back or neck muscles or fatigue.

What to Do if You Have a Pinched Nerve?

If you are experiencing one or more symptoms of a pinched nerve, it is essential to seek medical attention. The healthcare specialist will perform a physical examination, take your medical history and ask about your signs and symptoms to evaluate your condition. The specialist will also check for muscle weakness, test changes in reflexes, and inquire about the different sensations you are feeling, to determine the causes behind your symptoms. He may also order imaging exams to make an accurate diagnosis of a pinched nerve.

Luckily, most cases of a pinched nerve can be treated with home care and treatment. Your doctor will recommend rest and ask you to stay away from activities that irritate or put stress on the already affected nerve to help you feel better.

Treatment options include:

  • Ice and heat – Applying ice and heat as you would with any swollen or inflamed area can provide temporary relief.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers – Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen can ease the symptoms, but any pain that lasts more than 3 days needs medical attention.
  • Splints and cervical collars – You may wear a soft hand splint or neck collar for a short time to limit motion and avoid further pain.
  • Physical therapy – Gentle stretches and light exercises help to relieve the pressure on the pinched nerve and ease minor pain. It is best to consult a trained and experienced therapist to learn about the best exercises and stretches that work for your condition.

Surgery may be the last resort to take the pressure off the nerve if your pain and symptoms do not improve after several weeks. The type of surgery varies depending on the location of the pinched nerve. Surgery may entail removing bone spurs or a part of a herniated disk in the spine or severing the carpal ligament to allow more room for the nerve to pass through the wrist. A pinched nerve can lead to long-term pain and permanent nerve damage if left untreated.

Nerves play a crucial role in communicating messages between the brain and the body, and taking good care of them is essential. Schedule an appointment to see Dr. Eric Freeman at Redefine Healthcare, an experienced and board-certified pain management specialist, if you are experiencing any symptoms of a pinched nerve for a professional diagnosis. He ensures you understand your condition and the factors that are causing it to manage your pain safely with least downtime. The pain specialist comes up with excellent and minimally invasive pain management strategies to help you manage acute or chronic back, joint and nerve pain and enjoy long-term wellness.

Page Updated on Dec 15, 2022 by Dr. Freeman (Pain Management Specialist) of Redefine Healthcare


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Dr. Eric D. Freeman

Dr. Eric D. Freeman is a top-rated, best-in-class pain management doctor. He is a nationally recognized pain relief specialist and is among the top pain care doctors in New Jersey and the country. He is an award-winning expert and contributor to prominent media outlets.

Dr. Eric D. Freeman has been recognized for his thoughtful, thorough, modern approach to treating chronic pain. He has been named a “top pain management doctor in New Jersey” and one of “America’s Top Physicians” for advanced sports injury treatments.

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