A pinched nerve occurs when too much pressure is applied to a nerve by surrounding tissues, such as bones, cartilage, muscles or tendons. This pressure disrupts the nerve’s function, causing pain, tingling, numbness or weakness.
A pinched nerve can occur at several sites in your body. A herniated disk in your lower spine, for example, may put pressure on a nerve root, causing pain that radiates down the back of your leg. Likewise, a pinched nerve in your wrist can lead to pain and numbness in your hand and fingers (carpal tunnel syndrome).
A herniated disk often occurs with lifting, pulling, bending, or twisting movements
Pinched nerve signs and symptoms include:
- Numbness or decreased sensation in the area supplied by the nerve
- Sharp, aching or burning pain, which may radiate outward
- Tingling, “pins and needles” sensations (paresthesia)
- Muscle weakness in the affected area
- Frequent feeling that a foot or hand has “fallen asleep”
The problems related to a pinched nerve may be worse when you’re sleeping.
After discussing your medical history and general health, your doctor will ask you about your symptoms. He or she will then examine your neck, shoulder, arms and hands—looking for muscle weakness, loss of sensation, or any change in your reflexes. Your doctor may also ask you to perform certain neck and arm movements to try to recreate and/or relieve your symptoms.
Some tests your doctor may do include:
- Computed tomography (CT) scans
- Magnetic Resonance imaging (MRI) scans
- Electromyography (EMG)
The most frequently recommended treatment for pinched nerve is rest for the affected area. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids may be recommended to help alleviate pain. Physical therapy is often useful, and splints or collars may be used to relieve symptoms. Depending on the cause and severity of the pinched nerve, surgery may be needed.
With treatment, most people recover from pinched nerve. However, in some cases, the damage is irreversible.