What is a Pinched Nerve?
Your aching back, stiff neck or arm and leg pain might be courtesy of a pinched nerve. Nerves in your spine and other parts of your body can be compressed by surrounding tissue, causing pain, numbness and tingling. Time, rest and home treatment relieve most pinched nerves, but when they don’t, other treatments such as physical therapy can help.
What is a pinched nerve?
A pinched nerve is a compressed nerve. Surrounding tissues that press on nerve roots can cause pain, numbness and tingling in different areas of your body. In many cases, the cause is a herniated disk slipping out between vertebrae in the spinal cord and pressing on the spinal nerve that goes down the leg.
Most pinched nerves originate in the neck (cervical radiculopathy), upper middle back (thoracic radiculopathy) or lower back (lumbar radiculopathy). You can also experience pinched nerves in your hand, elbow and wrist (carpal tunnel syndrome for the wrist). Pinched nerves can affect several areas of your body:
- A pinched nerve in the cervical spine can give you a stiff neck, and the pain and numbness can affect the shoulder and arm.
- A pinched lumbar nerve in the lower back can cause pain in your back, hips, buttocks and legs we commonly refer to as sciatica.
- Thoracic radiculopathy causes pain in your chest area. If you have severe chest pain, play it safe and call your healthcare provider.
- A pinched nerve can be painful, but it’s usually treatable with rest, over-the-counter medication and physical therapy. Most people recover fully from a pinched nerve.
How common is a pinched nerve?
Pinched nerves are common. Roughly 35% of all episodes of lower back pain are accompanied by a pinch upon the sciatic nerve (sciatica). People of any age can experience pinched nerves, but those aged 50 and older are most likely to have them, due to arthritis and degeneration in the spine and other parts of the body.
Where do pinched nerves occur in my body?
Pinched nerves can happen throughout your body based on the location of the nerves being affected. The most common areas where you’ll feel the effects of a pinched nerve are the:
- Neck and shoulder (compressed cervical nerves).
- Back and upper chest (compressed thoracic and lumbar nerves).
- Arm and elbow (caused by pressure on the ulnar nerve; for example, pain in this nerve is felt when you hit your elbow’s “funny bone”).
- Wrist and hand (often caused by carpal tunnel syndrome).