A pinched nerve is not actually pinched in the classic definition, the not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day definition. It is more of a pinched in the car door, pinched when the drawer closed on your finger kind of thing.
A pinched nerve occurs when too much pressure is applied to a nerve by surrounding tissues: muscles, tendons, cartilage, and bones. This pressure is actually more compression than pinching, but it can be instant, for instance, when we sleep in a bad position and a nerve gets squeezed.
Where can I get a pinched nerve?
A pinched nerve can occur at lots of places on your body. Longer-term situations occur when herniated discs compress nerves or when the nerves traveling through your wrist are pinched in carpal tunnel syndrome. Obviously, areas with big muscles and few ways to incorrectly position the bones and nerves, such as your legs, aren’t prone to pinched nerves. They are more common in areas involving the spinal vertebrae and where nerves run into sensitive areas such as the hands, neck, feet, face, and the like. For instance, when the nerves are coming through the carpal tunnel in the wrist, they can be squeezed by swelling in the transverse carpal ligament, tendon sheaths within the tunnel, and any enlarged carpal bones.
What are the symptoms of a pinched nerve?
The symptoms of a pinched nerve include:
- Numbness or decreased sensation in the area supplied by the nerve
- Sharp, aching, or burning pain, which may radiate out from the nerve location
- Tingling, pins and needles sensations
- Muscle weakness in the area
- Frequent feeling that a foot or hand has fallen asleep
What causes a pinched nerve?
A pinched nerve is really nothing more than pressure/compression onto the nerve that can come from bone, cartilage, muscles, or tendons. Sometimes, as in a pinched nerve in your neck that occurred during sleep, it’s incorrect positioning of muscles and possibly bones pushing on a nerve. Those kinds of pinched nerves usually are only painful for a few hours.
Chronic pinched nerves are more problematic, as they lead to chronic pain and eventually nerve damage.
These conditions can cause nerve compression:
- Traumatic injury
- Rheumatoid or wrist arthritis
- Stress from repetitive movements of work
- Hobbies or sports activities
At Texas Neurosurgery, we’ll first find the location of the pinched nerve. Certain areas may need a splint or brace to immobilize the area and stop the compression. For instance, cubital tunnel syndrome, where the nerve crosses the outside of the elbow, can be alleviated by a brace to keep the arm straight (bending stretches the nerve), especially during sleep.
Beyond rest, physical therapy can be used to stretch the muscles in the area to relieve pressure. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help with the pain. Corticosteroid injections can alleviate the pain and the irritation of the nerve.
If those conservative treatments don’t relieve the pinched nerve and the pain, decompression surgery may be necessary. Our surgeons may remove bone spurs, parts of herniated spinal disks, or they may simply create more room in a tight space, such as in carpal tunnel surgery.