Compressed nerve or pinched nerve is a term that used to indicate a nerve that is being compressed or constricted. If a nerve is compressed it is not able to send neurological messages properly. Compression of nerve can affect sensory, motor or autonomic nerves.
The commonest example of single compressed nerve is the sense of having a foot or hand fall asleep.
There are several causes of compressed nerve. Pinched nerves can be caused by:
- Compression, constriction, or stretching.
- Herniated disc or bone spurs that form from spinal arthritis
- Pregnancy, injury, repetitive motions or joint disease
Compressed nerve in the wrist can be a result of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Common symptoms of pinched nerve include:
- "Pins and needles" or burning sensations
- Pain radiating or spreading outward from the injured area
The exact symptoms depend on which nerve is affected as each nerve is responsible for sending information to or from specific parts of the body. For instance:
- Compressed nerve in the neck can cause neck pain or stiffness, and symptoms radiating to the arm.
- Compressed nerve in the lower back can cause back pain or stiffness and symptoms radiating down the leg.
Tests and diagnosis
A doctor can often identify the nerve that is affected or compressed in the neck or lower back based on what portion of the patient's arm or leg is affected and questions about his or her pain, numbness, tingling, weakness, and other symptoms. Based on the medical history and the physical examination, the doctor may advice additional tests such as;
- X-rays: Can assess possible injury to the spine or arthritis of the spine.
- CT scan or an MRI scan: These are done depending on the severity and duration of the symptoms. These scans provide additional information that are not seen on regular X-rays.
- Nerve conduction study or an electromyography (EMG)
With appropriate treatment, most people recover from pinched nerve.
Rest: Rest to the affected part is the most frequently recommended treatment for pinched nerve. Your doctor will ask you to avoid activities that aggravate or can cause the compression.
Splint or brace: Splint or brace to immobilize the affected area may be needed. Like if a patient has carpal tunnel syndrome, he/she may be advised to wear a splint at night as well as during the day.
Physical therapy: Physiotherapy helps to strengthen and stretch the muscles in the affected area in order to relieve pressure on the nerve. A physiotherapist can teach you these exercises and guide you regarding it.
Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, mefenamic acid and naproxen can help to relieve pain. If your pain and inflammation are severe your doctor may recommend stronger analgesics or corticosteroid injections into the affected nerve to minimize pain and inflammation.
Surgery: If your symptoms due to compressed nerve persist after several weeks to a few months with conservative treatment, surgery to relieve pressure off the nerve may be needed. Your doctor may advice the type of surgery depending on the location of the pinched nerve.
OTC pain reliefs: Simple analgesics like paracetamol, aspirin, ibuprofen can relieve pain of compressed nerve if your symptoms are not severe.
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