A pinched nerve, medically known as a nerve compression, occurs when pressure is applied to a nerve. The pressure to the nerve can take place internally due to surrounding tissues including bones, ligaments, cartilage, tendons or muscles, or due to external forces such as injuries. The pain that results can be mild or severe. However, in extreme cases, the pain spreads into arms, hands, legs, and feet. The condition is known as cervical radiculopathy.
The human body contains a complex network of nerves, and some of these nerves travel through narrow spaces and have little tissue to offer them protection. A pinched nerve can occur in wrists; often causing pain and numbness in hands and fingers or the lower spine. The period a patient takes to receive pinched nerve treatment determines if there will be permanent nerve damage, scarring, and swelling. This article explores the symptoms, diagnosis, and prevention of pinched nerve treatment.
Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve
Symptoms may be mild or severe. It is essential to solicit a doctor’s advice for pinched nerve treatment if the following signs and symptoms last for more than several days.
- Radiating pain in the area supplied by the nerve.
- Muscle spasms.
- Tingling ‘pins and needles’ sensations.
- Burning ‘hot and cold’ sensations.
- Radiating pain through the shoulder or arm if the pinched nerve is located in the neck.
Diagnosing Pinched Nerve
Your doctor will diagnose pinched nerve by taking your medical history of symptoms and also carrying out a physical examination. A patient may also be subjected to some tests if a pinched nerve is the likely cause of pain. Such tests may consist of:
- Electromyography (EMG) is a type of test that uses nerve conduction to determine and locate the pinched nerve as well as determine the extent of nerve damage. It is often used to complement physical examination. A needle electrode is injected through the skin and into the muscles. An electric current is then passed through the needle electrode to examine how the muscles contract with varying levels of stimulation.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can also be used for diagnosis; especially if the pinched nerve is located in the neck or back area caused by nerve root compression. MRI uses a magnetic field and radio waves to view the body in multiple areas. These imaging tests also look at the cause of the pinched nerve; which could be arthritis, a fracture or bulging disc.
- High-resolution ultrasound is also used for diagnosis of a pinched nerve caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. The imaging technique utilizes high-frequency sound waves to deliver images and structures within the patient’s body.
- Nerve conduction study also helps your doctor determine the extent of damage to the pinched nerve. Electrodes placed on the skin are used to measure electric nerve impulses as well as the functioning capacity of the muscles. It works by sending a small current through the nerve.
What Will Your Doctor Ask?
Your doctor might look out for a few risk factors for a pinched nerve. These risk factors include injury, trauma, sleeping and sitting postures, pregnancy due to weight gain, and water retention. A pinched nerve can also be caused by repetitive motions such as those experienced in sports, exercise, weightlifting, and labor-intensive jobs.
Your doctor may also look at a variety of common risk factors for pinched nerve including:
- Herniated disc: This occurs when the vertebral disc tears or has inherent weaknesses causing it to put pressure on the nerve roots.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: Compression of the carpal tunnel (which houses the medial nerve) by enlarged bones, swollen tendon sheaths or a degenerated ligament.
- Bone outgrowths: Bone spurs occur when extra bone is deposited along the spine during minor inflammation. Inflammatory response mechanisms propagate bone outgrowth causing compression onto the nerves.
- Spinal arthritis: This condition occurs when cartilage in the joints becomes worn out due to aging or wear and tear. Inflammation then occurs, and pressure is exerted on the nearby nerves causing excruciating pain.
What Is the Treatment for a Pinched Nerve?
Pinched nerve treatment often involves surgical and non-surgical options depending on the position and severity of the condition.
Non-Surgical Pinched Nerve Treatment
Anti-inflammatory medication: Because pain is a prominent characteristic of a pinched nerve, pain medication can be used to relieve pain and swelling. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as naproxen sodium and ibuprofen are some of the drugs used in these cases. Prescription pain relievers such as corticosteroid injections may also minimize pain and inflammation.
Rest and physical therapy: The most common pinched nerve treatment applied is immobilization of the pinched nerve site. Frequently, braces are used to immobilize the affected area. Resting is also effective as it allows the nerve to heal. Physiotherapy is yet another technique applied to balance the pressure on the nerve.
Steroid injections: After pain mapping and locating the pinched area, steroids are injected into the area surrounding the nerves to soothe and reduce inflammation. Such injections are only a temporary pinched nerve treatment meant for alleviating discomfort while doctors seek a permanent solution. Usually these are done by specialists called physiatrists (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation).
Massage and acupuncture: Therapeutic massages also improve blood flow and induce relaxation by easing the pressure on the nerve. Licensed massage therapists use specialized needles on muscles’ trigger points. Chiropractic care has helped many patients ease their pain.
Hot and cold therapy: This method is used to provide relief for mildly painful pinched nerves. The therapy involves alternating between hot and cold compressions such as heating pads and ice packs.
Surgical Pinched Nerve Treatment
Surgery, which is a form of pinched nerve treatment, implies making tiny incisions to remove a scar tissue, bone outgrowths, and vertebral discs that may be pressing onto a nerve. This grants the nerve more room for it to function normally.
Pinched Nerve Treatment Duration and Recovery Time
The pinched nerve treatment duration depends on the extent of the pinched nerve and the treatment used. Treatments to alleviate pain such as pain medication and therapies such as massages usually provide temporary relief immediately. However, the patient should book a few appointments to ensure they get comprehensive care since the treatment enables the body to heal naturally.
In case of surgery, minimally invasive surgical techniques are used where small miniature incisions are made on the skin. The recovery time is usually shorter. The patient experiences less scarring and trauma than with other types of surgery. Therefore, the pain tends to dissipate rapidly.
Additional Information about Pinched Nerve Treatment
A pinched nerve can be resolved with treatment aimed at ensuring that the nerve recovers. In some cases, the nerve may be permanently damaged. This leaves the patient with permanent numbness and pain in the affected areas. In cases where treatment is provided, nerve regeneration may take time because nerves need time to regain full functionality.
It is, therefore, imperative to take preventative measures. Prevention of pinched nerve involves maintaining proper body posture, decreasing repetitive strenuous activities, and reducing the risk of nerve injury that may result from injuries.
Overall, nerves extend from the brain through the spinal cord and all over the body. A pinched nerve is painful and may result in temporary or long-lasting nerve damage. The earlier one gets a diagnosis, the better the chances of regaining full nerve functions. Pinched nerve treatment includes non-surgical and surgical options, and usually alleviates pain and other symptoms.
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