A real pain in the neck (and elsewhere).
Do you have neck pain that extends down your shoulder and perhaps to your forearm or down your back? Is it a sharp pain?
Does your arm, hand, or foot ever tingle, feel numb, feel weak, or have a burning feeling? Do your extremities feel like they’ve fallen asleep, causing a pins and needles sensation? Is the pain worse when you try to sleep, turn or extend your neck, or when you cough or sneeze? If your answer to any of those questions is yes, then a pinched nerve may be to blame.
How can these tiny nerves cause so much pain, and what can you do to get back to a pain-free life? Read on to find out.
What Is a Pinched Nerve?
When a nerve or set of nerves have been injured or damaged, they are described as “pinched.” This may result from constriction, compression, or stretching of the nerve by surrounding tissue (muscles, bones, cartilage, or tendons). It may also be caused by pressure or inflammation on the root of a nerve that extends from the spine. When a nerve is damaged, it can’t perform its normal job. This is what causes the pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness.
How and Where Does This Happen?
There are a number of possible causes for nerve damage. Common contributors to nerve damage include injury to the area near the nerve, poor posture, a herniated disk in the spine, bone spurs, obesity, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or pregnancy. Pinched nerves can also be heredity or brought on by stress on the nerves from repetitive motions done on the job (factory line work), in a sport (throwing a baseball), or everyday life.
Several areas of the body are susceptible to developing pinched nerves.
These include the spine (a herniated disk causes pain down the back of your leg), the wrist (numbness and pain in the hand that is caused by carpal tunnel syndrome), neck (pain in the neck and arms), lower back, and buttocks.
Treatment and Prognosis
Rest for the affected area is the initial treatment for a pinched nerve. By resting and avoiding the activities that cause pain, most people will experience relief within days or weeks. Along with rest, corticosteroid injections or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, may be taken to relieve pain.
If these home treatments don’t relieve your symptoms within a few days, you may require physical therapy to strengthen and stretch the affected area. Often, this relieves the pressure on the nerve and results in improvement of symptoms. Occasionally, collars, braces, or splints may also aid in healing the nerve. As a last resort, surgery may be necessary.
Diagnosing a pinched nerve early is important to prevent permanent damage. When pressure on the nerve is relieved, the nerves typically resume their normal function and any pain, weakness, or numbness subsides. However, some damage is irreversible. As prolonged nerve pressure may lead to chronic pain and permanent damage, seeking medical attention is important if you experience any symptoms of a pinched nerve for more than two weeks.
A Pinch of Prevention
If a pinched nerve sounds like something you’d like to avoid, taking the following measures will keep pinched nerves at bay:
- Do your best to maintain good posture throughout the day.
- Add flexibility and strength training exercises to your daily routine.
- Eat a healthy diet and work to obtain and maintain a healthy weight.
- Limit any repetitive activities or take frequent breaks if you must perform the same movement over and over.
Don’t Just Sit There.
If nerve pain is affecting you, addressing it as soon as possible may mean the difference between full or no use of the affected body part.
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