Pinched Nerve

A pinched nerve occurs when too much pressure is applied to a nerve by surrounding tissues. If the pressure isn't relieved, it can cause permanent damage to the nerve.

What is it?

Any pressure applied to a nerve by the surrounding tissue will produce irritation and will disrupt the nerve's functioning, with consequences that can range from aches and pains to a loss of feeling or weakening of muscles. The pinching can occur for many reasons — pregnancy, an injury, repetitive motions or joint disease, to name just a few. It may also occur anywhere in the peripheral nervous system (that is, nerves outside the brain and spine). Nerves passing over a rigid prominence, such as a bone, are particularly vulnerable.

The most typical pinched nerves are the median, ulnar and radial nerves, which extend down the arms from the shoulders to the hands. Other commonly compressed nerves include the femoral, which extends from the pelvis to the knee; the plantar nerves in your feet; nerves between discs in your spinal column; the peroneal nerve running along the side of your leg; and the sciatic nerve, a large nerve that runs the length of each leg from the base of your spine to your foot.

With treatment, a pinched nerve generally heals in a few days to a few weeks. Chronic cases can result from persistent irritation of the affected nerve. In some cases, damage to the nerve can become permanent.

What causes it?

Pressure on a peripheral nerve from the surrounding tissue causes inflammation of the nerve. Such pressure can be the result of injury or disease. Sometimes the source of the problem is constant repetition of arm or leg movements, common with keyboard operations and assembly-line jobs. Also, some people are genetically more susceptible to nerve injury caused by pressure.

Another common cause of nerve irritation is a damaged spinal disc — the cushioning between vertebrae. If a disc becomes injured or degenerates, it can tear, allowing the soft jelly-like center to bulge out and press on an adjacent nerve. This condition, popularly known as a slipped disc, tends to occur in the parts of the spine that are the most mobile: the lower back (lumbar spine) and neck (cervical spine). Heavy lifting, obesity and contact sports can contribute to the problem.

What are the symptoms?

  • Tenderness, tingling or numbness in one part of your body, often a limb.
  • Prickly, burning or stabbing pain where a nerve is being irritated, with a dull ache farther along the nerve's length.
  • Weakness in the affected area; atrophy of muscles because of disuse, so that one arm or leg may look thinner than the other.

Are there any natural therapies?

  • The minerals magnesium phosphate and potassium phosphate are indicated for the treatment of a pinched nerve.
  • Fish oil capsules may be of assistance to relieve the inflammation that is causing pressure on the nerve.
  • Start visiting a Chiropractor as soon as possible.

What else can I do?

Try to avoid tasks that involve repetitive hand, wrist, arm or shoulder motions. When avoidance is impossible, perform the motions for short periods of time with breaks in between. If symptoms begin to appear, consult a physical therapist to learn about possible modifications in the task or the equipment.

Did you know?

Sometimes the pains and sensations are distant from the point of pressure. For instance, a pinched nerve in the low back may cause pain in the calf as the only symptom. When there is nerve damage from constant pressure, pain and weakness may increase. There may be a loss of reflexes, movement skills, sensation in the affected area, and withering (atrophy) of the affected muscles can occur.