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What are the Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve and How Can I Fix It?

A pinched nerve can become serious, causing chronic pain, or even lead to permanent nerve damage. Fluid and swelling can do irreversible damage to the nerves, so be sure to contact your provider if your symptoms worsen or don’t improve after several days.

What causes a pinched nerve?

Some conditions can cause tissue or bone to compress a nerve and cause symptoms. These include:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation in the joints that may pressure nearby nerves.
  • Aging leads to “wear and tear” on the spine and its discs. Over time spinal discs can lose water content and flatten. The vertebrae (bones in the spinal cord) move closer together, and in response the body forms growths of bone. These bone growths, or spurs, can compress nerves.
  • Sudden injury from sports or an accident can result in a pinched nerve. Awkward lifting, pulling, or twisting movements can cause a herniated disc.
  • Repetitive motion tasks, like extended periods of typing on a keyboard, can cause stress in your wrist and hand. This may lead to carpal tunnel syndrome (tendon inflammation pressuring the median nerve in your arm).
  • Obesity: Excess weight can swell your nerve pathway, putting pressure on nerves.
  • Pregnancy: The extra weight can result in compressed nerves.
  • Diabetes: High glucose (sugar) levels in the blood damage your nerves.

What are symptoms of a pinched nerve?

  • Pain (sharp or a dull ache).
  • Numbness.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Tingling (“pins and needles” sensation).
  • Sensation that your hand or foot has fallen asleep.

How is a pinched nerve treated?

Medical management (non-surgical) is the first line of treatment for pinched nerves. This includes:

  • Time and rest: For many people, time takes care of a pinched nerve and it doesn’t need treatment. The pain should go away in a few days or weeks.
  • Ice and heat: Apply ice and heat as you would with any swollen area for temporary relief.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers: Acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may help your symptoms. NSAIDs include ibuprofen and naproxen.
  • Splints and cervical collars (for wrist and hand or neck): Your provider may advise you to wear a soft hand splint or neck collar for a short time to limit motion as you heal.
  • Corticosteroids: Your provider may prescribe strong anti-inflammatory medications like prednisone to relieve pain. These can be taken orally (through the mouth) or injected directly into the affected area.
  • Physical therapy: Stretches and light exercise can help ease pressure on your nerves and relieve minor pain. Talk to your provider or physical therapist about what types of exercises are best for the type of pinched nerve you’re experiencing.
  • Surgery: Surgery is the last resort in treating a pinched nerve when non-surgical treatment hasn’t relieved pressure on nerves.

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