A pinched nerve — also called a compressed nerve — can cause a range of symptoms that make your life difficult or painful. When your nerve is “pinched” or compressed, it literally doesn’t have enough room to do its job properly. The compression irritates the nerve so it constantly sends out pain signals or creates other unpleasant sensations.
Pinched nerves shouldn’t be ignored. Even if your pain is minor right now, a pinched nerve can become permanently damaged if you don’t relieve the pressure. That’s why the spine experts at The Spine Center at the Bone and Joint Clinic of Baton Rouge in Baton Rouge, Walker, and Prairieville, Louisiana encourage you to get your pinched nerve evaluated quickly.
What’s pinching your nerve?
Most nerves that get pinched or compressed are in the spine. However, you can also suffer pinched nerves in your wrist and elbow.
You may have a pinched nerve because you overuse a joint, such as your wrist, causing the tendons and ligaments to inflame and impinge on the nerves in your hand. If you have arthritis, you might develop bone spurs that can press on a nerve.
Slipped or degenerated spinal discs can also compress nerves. Any tissue or structure that moves out of its own natural space and into the nerve’s space can compress or pinch that nerve.
You might suffer a pinched nerve after a car accident, a fall, or another type of trauma that causes swelling or dislocation. Even a medical condition such as diabetes or obesity can lead to compressed nerves.
The pain travels
One of the tricky attributes of pinched nerves is that you don’t always feel the pain at the site of the problem. The pain radiates to other locations in your body, particularly if the nerve itself is long.
For instance, if you have sciatica, the nerve might be pinched at the area where it originates — in the lower back. But the pain can travel down either of the two long branches of the sciatic nerve. You might feel pain, numbness, or tingling in your buttocks, thigh, or even further down your leg. Conditions caused by pinched nerves include:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Chest pain
- Stiff neck
- Shoulder or arm pain
- Hip pain
- Leg pain
If you feel pins-and-needles sensations, pain, or if your limbs are numb, hard to move, or weak, you may have a pinched nerve somewhere in your spine.
Diagnosing and treating pinched nerves
Your spine expert diagnoses and locates your pinched nerve through a physical examination as well as imaging studies. They may use an X-ray or CT scan to analyze fractures or alignment changes in your spine. They may also order an MRI to check for damage to your soft tissues, including your spinal cord.
Your doctor may conduct an electromyography (EMG) to determine if your compressed nerve is still working normally. Once the source of your pain and disability has been located and your condition diagnosed, your doctor devises a treatment plan.
In many cases, simply resting the affected area and treating it with compression and icing can improve your pain and dysfunction within days. However, if your pain is severe, you may need to take pain medications or wear a brace or cervical collar for support.
Depending on your needs our doctors may also recommend:
- Steroid injections
- Oral steroids
- Physical therapy
- Disc surgery
Catching a pinched nerve early increases the likelihood that the nerve can heal without surgical intervention. If you ignore a pinched nerve, it can worsen and become irrevocably damaged.