A pinched nerve occurs when surrounding tissue applies too much pressure to the nerve. This could be due to out-of-place bones, cartilage, muscles, or tendons pressing onto the nerve, which often causes tingling, numbness, pain, or weakness.
Pinched nerves are a common condition that can impact people of all ages, but those ages 50 and older are most likely to experience them due to aging-related issues, including arthritis and bone degeneration.
What Causes Pinched Nerves?
A pinched nerve may affect your neck, back, shoulder, hand, elbow, or wrist and can be caused by several scenarios, including:
- Sudden injury from strenuous physical activity: This can cause misaligned joints and put extra pressure on the nerve.
- Prolonged inactivity: A sedentary lifestyle puts excess pressure on your spine and back and can leave to compressed nerves.
- Pre-existing conditions: Arthritis or bone degeneration can weaken your spine and potentially make pinched nerves more likely.
- Repetitive movements, such as typing or lifting heavy objects: This puts excess pressure on a particular part of your body.
With some rest and self-care treatments, such as chiropractic care or ice and heat, pinched nerves often resolve naturally. But it’s important to watch out for the common symptoms to ensure the condition does not lead to something more serious. If nerve pressure continues for a length of time, it is possible for chronic pain or permanent nerve damage to occur.
6 Common Symptoms of Pinched Nerves
1. Pins and Needles
Pins and needles are an uncomfortable tingling sensation typically felt in the legs, arms, hands, and feet. It’s one of the most common symptoms of a pinched nerve. Many describe the feeling as having a hand or foot “fall asleep,” when blood circulation is cut off. The tingling feeling goes away quickly when adequate blood flow returns or the pressure is released from the nerve.
2. Burning Pain Radiating Outward
A person with a pinched nerve may experience a burning feeling radiating outward from the affected area. For example, if you have a pinched nerve in your neck, the sharp, burning feeling may also be felt all the way into your shoulder and arm, causing pain and discomfort.
3. Stiff Neck
A pinched nerve on the cervical spine may result in a stiff neck. For older adults, a pinched nerve in the neck area may be due to natural “wear and tear” of the spine from aging.
For younger individuals, a pinched nerve in the neck may stem from an injury. A chiropractor can teach corrective exercises and stretches for your neck and shoulders to help relieve pain and stiffness.
Pinched nerves can cause numbness in the affected area and surrounding body parts.
For example, a compressed nerve in the neck area may cause a dull sensation in the shoulders, arms, and fingers. Meanwhile, a pinched nerve in the lower back can cause numbness in the buttocks and legs.
5. Muscle Weakness
A motor nerve is a type of nerve that helps with voluntary movements throughout your body. When this type of nerve is pinched, it results in weakness and compromises motor function. You may even have trouble walking if the affected area is in your lower body or difficulty gripping objects if the affected area is in your hand or arm.
In some cases, pinched nerves can cause fatigue as the muscles in the affected areas may feel heavy when in use. The muscle pain, as well as muscle tightness, can also drain your energy and lead to tiredness.
What to Do When You Have a Pinched Nerve
Treatment for a pinched nerves depends on the condition’s severity and location. For some, symptoms of a pinched nerve can improve in a matter of hours. Here are some care suggestions:
- If you work at a desk, try adjusting your posture and using ergonomic equipment for your workstation. (Learn more: “8 Tips for Proper Desk Posture at Work”)
- Take regular stretch breaks throughout the day. Stretching and extension movements can help lessen the pressure placed on the nerve and loosen tight muscles.
- Ice or heat packs can help relieve pain and relax the muscles in the affected area.
- If the pinched nerve occurs in your lower back, elevate your legs to take pressure off the affected area.
You can also take steps to prevent a pinched nerve from happening in the first place. Keeping your spine healthy (and pinched-nerve-free) comes from a variety of factors that are similar to our general well-being: avoid sitting for prolonged periods, maintain proper posture, move your body often, and stretch daily.
Can a Chiropractor Help Treat a Pinched Nerve?
If home treatments are not working for you, chiropractic care can help with issues related to pinched nerves. A chiropractor may help you relieve nerve pain and any discomfort associated with pinched nerves by identifying the affected nerve and performing soft tissue work and adjustments.
The first step is to make the correct diagnosis. If a chiropractor suspects your pain could be caused by another condition, they may refer you to your primary care doctor or another type of clinician. If a chiropractor confirms that you’re experiencing a pinched nerve, there are a few common therapies for treatment:
- Chiropractic adjustments to restore function to the joints surrounding the pinched nerve.
- Myofascial release or massage techniques to loosen any tight muscles in the affected area.
- Prescribed exercises and stretches to build the muscles that stabilize your spine to prevent future issues.